Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer involves abnormal cell growth within the ovary and surrounding tissues.

Last modified: November 8, 2021

Quick facts about ovarian cancerQuick facts

  • The average age of women when they are diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 64 years old
  • Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer, so it mostly affects women. Transgender men and intersex people can also get ovarian cancer if they have ovaries

 

Types of ovarian cancerTypes of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer can be one of three types:

Epithelial ovarian cancer

This can involve either one or both ovaries, where cancer cells grow on the outside of the ovary. This type of ovarian cancer is the most common form, accounting for approximately 90% of ovarian cancers.

Germ cell ovarian cancer

This involves the cells that produce the eggs and accounts for approximately 4% of all ovarian cancers.

Stromal tumour ovarian cancer

This involves the tissues that support the ovary in producing oestrogen and progesterone hormones. This type of ovarian cancer is very rare.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancerSigns and symptoms

As signs and symptoms for ovarian cancer can be similar to other common conditions, it’s important to see your GP or healthcare professional if you experience any of the symptoms below. Discussing anything concerning with your doctor as soon as possible can help give you peace of mind and offer the best chance of successful treatment if you receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the abdomen or pelvic area

  • Bloating or an extended abdomen

  • Bleeding between periods or after menopause

  • Reduced appetite or a feeling of being full after small meals

  • Weight gain or loss that can’t be explained by diet and exercise-related factors

  • Changes in urinating, including increase in frequency and urgent need to pass urine

  • Changes in bowel habits such as constipation or diarrhoea

  • Tiredness

Stages of ovarian cancerStages

Ovarian cancer is typically staged using the FIGO (International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics) system, which helps doctors understand what your cancer looks like.

Within each stage of ovarian cancer, there are sub-stages listed from A through to D which describe the extent of the tumour.

The FIGO system, along with other tests, helps determine the stage of your ovarian cancer using the guidelines below:

Stage I

Cancer has been found in either one or both ovaries.

Stage II

The cancer has spread beyond one or both ovaries to other nearby organs such as the uterus or bladder.

Stage III

The cancer has spread beyond the ovaries and nearby organs to the lining of the abdomen or lymph nodes.

Stage IV

The cancer has spread to other areas of the body such as the lung.

Treatment for ovarian cancer

There are many different types of treatment for ovarian cancer. Your treatment will depend on you and your cancer.

Frequently asked questions about ovarian cancerFAQs

Is ovarian cancer hereditary?

Some women are at increased risk of ovarian cancer because they have a strong family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer. They may also be at increased risk when a family member is known to have inherited a fault in a gene associated with breast or ovarian cancer.

In some cases ovarian cancer is due to mutations in the genes BRCA 1 (Breast Cancer 1) and BRCA 2 (Breast Cancer 2). Mutations in these genes also increase your risk of developing breast cancer.

Approximately 15% of ovarian cancers are caused by these gene mutations.

Learn more about the role of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in developing breast and ovarian cancer.

What causes ovarian cancer?

There’s no one cause of ovarian cancer, however genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors can all increase your risk. Risk factors include:

  • Having a family history of ovarian cancer, especially if a close relative such as your sister, mother or daughter has had ovarian cancer
  • Increased age (the risk increases for women over 50 years of age)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Having a family history of bowel or breast cancer
  • Endometriosis (a condition where tissue that lines your uterus grows abnormally outside of the uterus)
  • Having Ashkenazi Jewish descent
  • Using Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
How common is ovarian cancer?

Currently, ovarian cancer is estimated to be the 9th most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in Australian women.

It is mainly diagnosed in women over the age of 50, however, there are also cases diagnosed in younger women.

The chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer by the time you are 85 years old is estimated to be 1 in 87.

Can I receive screening for ovarian cancer?

There is no screening test to diagnose ovarian cancer. A blood test to test for CA125 – a common marker for ovarian cancer may be done, along with a physical examination and scans. However, only a biopsy can clinically diagnose ovarian cancer.

This is why knowing your body and being aware of any changes and symptoms is important.

Screening or surveillance is not recommended for women at high risk of developing ovarian cancer.

What can I do to decrease my risk of ovarian cancer?

Although the exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known, there are some factors that can reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer.

These include:

  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding and taking birth control reduce the frequency of egg production (ovulation) which is thought to decrease the risk of developing cancer of the ovary
  • Tubal ligation (cutting and tying the fallopian tubes) as well as hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) are also thought to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, through the reduction of cancer-causes substances reaching the ovaries
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – Cancer Australia recommends obtaining and maintaining a BMI (body mass index) of between 18.5 – 25 kg/m3

More research is needed to determine the risk of ovarian cancer with regards to alcohol, diet, and the use of aspirin and anti-inflammatory medications.

Are there clinical trials available for ovarian cancer that I can participate in?

Icon delivers Australia’s largest private cancer clinical trials and research program participating in international and national trials across medical oncology, haematology and radiation oncology. If you would like more information on participating in a clinical trial, please speak with your doctor.

See current clinical trials delivered by Icon Cancer Centre.

ReferencesReferences

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Ovarian Cancer Australia. (2021) About Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved 12 October 2021 from https://www.ovariancancer.net.au/page/67/about-ovarian-cancer
  2. Cancer Council NSW (2021). Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved 12 October 2021 from https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/ovarian-cancer/
  3. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2018). Ovarian cancer statistics in Australia. Retrieved on 12 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/statistics
  4. Cancer Council. (2018). Ovarian Cancer. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/ovarian-cancer.html#jump_5
  5. American Cancer Society. (2018). Ovarian Cancer Stages. Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/staging.html
  6. Cancer Council. (2018). Staging and prognosis of ovarian cancer. Retrieved on 1st May 2019 from https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/ovarian-cancer/diagnosis/staging-prognosis/
  7. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2017). What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer? Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/symptoms
  8. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2019). What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer? Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://ovarian-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/risk-factors
  9. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2018). Ovarian cancer statistics in Australia. Retrieved on 12 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/statistics
  10. Cancer Australia, Australian Government. (2018). Ovarian cancer screening. Retrieved on 12 October 2021 from https://www.canceraustralia.gov.au/cancer-types/ovarian-cancer/awareness
  11. American Cancer Society. (2018). What Causes Ovarian Cancer? Retrieved on 28th March 2019 from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer.html
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