About Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynaecological cancer in the UK and is diagnosed in over 7,000 women a year. This page provides information about ovarian cancer in the UK.

The ovaries are two small, oval shaped organs, which are part of the female reproductive system. They are located deep within the pelvis. The fallopian tubes lead from the ovaries to the womb (uterus). Each month, in women of reproductive age, an egg leaves one of the ovaries and passes along the fallopian tube to the womb. The ovaries are also responsible for the production of the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.

Cancer occurs when the division of cells gets out of control, leading to the formation of a growth or tumour. A growth caused by cancer is called malignant and a growth which is not cancerous is known as benign. Malignant tumours differ from benign growths in that they not only affect the organ they originate from but also have the ability to spread and affect other parts of the body.

We don’t know for certain what causes ovarian cancer, but it is thought that the cancer starts when the cells on the surface of the ovary do not repair themselves after ovulation. There is also a theory that it could be caused by cells that are deposited on the ovary from the fallopian tubes.

Cancer can occur in the ovary at any age, although the most common type of ovarian cancer (epithelial) tends to occur in post menopausal women. 90 per cent of cases occur in those over the age of 45.

Did you know?

Cervical screening tests – sometimes known as smear tests – will not detect ovarian cancer, only cervical cancer.

Last reviewed: April 2016
Date of next review: April 2018

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