Cancer of the ovary


Cancer of the ovary
Cancer of the ovary
  • Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries. It mostly affects women over the age of 50.
  • It can affect anyone who has ovaries.
  • The ovaries are 2 small organs that store the eggs needed to make babies.
  • Sometimes ovarian cancer runs in families.
  • The symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as bloating, are not always obvious.
  • Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late, but early diagnosis can mean it is more treatable.

Get your symptoms checked

It's important to get any symptoms of ovarian cancer checked as soon as possible. Finding it early can mean it's more treatable.


Symptoms of ovarian cancer include frequently (roughly 12 or more times a month) having:

  • a swollen tummy or feeling bloated
  • pain or tenderness in your tummy or the area between the hips (pelvis)
  • no appetite or feeling full quickly after eating
  • an urgent need to pee or needing to pee more often

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • indigestion
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • back pain
  • feeling tired all the time
  • losing weight without trying
  • bleeding from the vagina after the menopause

See a GP if:

  • you have any symptoms of ovarian cancer


These symptoms are very common and can be caused by many different conditions.

But it's still important to get them checked by a GP. This is because if they're caused by cancer, finding it early can mean it's more treatable.

What happens at the GP appointment

You will be asked about your health and symptoms. Tell the GP if anyone in your family has or had ovarian or breast cancer.

The GP or practice nurse may ask to examine you. You can ask for a female doctor or nurse when you book your appointment.

You'll be asked to undress from the waist down, behind a screen. You'll be given a sheet to put over you.

The examination may involve:

  • gently putting a smooth, tube-shaped tool (a speculum) into your vagina so they can see inside this area
  • pressing on your tummy and inside your vagina, to check for lumps or tender or sore areas

It should not be painful, but you may find it uncomfortable. Talk to the GP or nurse if you are feeling uncomfortable.

You can have a friend, family member or other member of staff in the room with you during your exam if you want.


You are in control and can ask the doctor to stop at any time.

Referral to a specialist

The GP or practice nurse may refer you for more tests or to see a specialist in hospital if they think you have a condition that needs to be investigated.

This may be an urgent referral, usually within 2 weeks, if you have certain symptoms. This does not definitely mean you have cancer.

Who can get it

The risk of developing ovarian cancer increases with age, with more than half of all cases in the UK in women aged 65 and over.

Anyone with ovaries can get ovarian cancer.

You cannot get ovarian cancer if you've had surgery to remove your ovaries.

You may have a higher chance of getting ovarian cancer if you:

  • inherited a faulty gene, such as the BRCA genes or those linked to Lynch syndrome
  • had breast cancer or bowel cancer
  • had radiotherapy treatment for a previous cancer
  • have endometriosis or diabetes
  • started your periods at a young age or went through the menopause late (over 55), or have not had a baby – because these things may mean you’ve released more eggs (ovulated more)
  • have never used any hormonal contraception, such as the pill or an implant
  • are taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • are overweight
  • smoke

Find out more

How to lower your risk of getting ovarian cancer

You cannot always prevent ovarian cancer but there are things you can do to lower your chances of getting it.


  • quit smoking
  • stay a healthy weight or lose weight if you're overweight
  • talk with a GP about possible tests or treatment (taking a hormonal contraception or removing your ovaries) if ovarian cancer runs in your family

It's important to get any symptoms of ovarian cancer checked by a GP.


A blood test and a scan are usually done first, but other tests are often needed to diagnose ovarian cancer.

You may have an ultrasound scan to see if there are changes to your ovaries.

This might be done using a scanning device (the size of a finger) inserted into your vagina (transvaginal scan). Or you may have an external scan over your tummy area (abdominal scan).

If your scan comes back normal, but your symptoms continue for a month or more, see a GP again.

Sometimes ovaries are too small to show up on a scan, especially after the menopause.

Other tests you may have include:

  • CT scan
  • removing a small sample of cells or fluid from your ovaries (needle biopsy),
  • looking at your ovaries using a camera on the end of a tube through a small cut in your tummy (laparoscopy)
  • surgery to remove tissue or possibly your ovaries (laparotomy)

Find out more

Getting your results

You should get the results of your tests within a few weeks.

Call the hospital or GP if you're worried. They should be able to update you.

A specialist will explain what the results mean and what will happen next. You may want to bring someone with you for support.

If you're told you have ovarian cancer

Being told you have ovarian cancer can feel overwhelming. You may be feeling anxious about what will happen next.

It can help to bring someone with you to any appointments you have.

A team of specialists will look after you throughout your diagnosis, treatment and beyond.

Your team will include a clinical nurse specialist who will be your main point of contact during and after treatment.

You can ask them any questions you have.


Macmillan Cancer Support has a free helpline that's open every day from 8am to 8pm.

They're there to listen if you have anything you want to talk about.

Call 0808 808 00 00.

Next steps

If you've been told you have ovarian cancer, you usually need more tests.

These, along with the tests you’ve already had, will help the specialists find out the size of the cancer and how far it’s spread (called the stage).

Find out more about the stages and grades of ovarian cancer on Cancer Research UK

You may need:

You may not have all of these tests.

The specialists will use the results of these tests and talk to you about the best treatment plan for you.


Treatment for ovarian cancer will depend on:

  • the size and type of ovarian cancer you have
  • where the cancer is
  • if it has spread
  • your general health

The main treatments are surgery and chemotherapy. Other treatments include targeted medicines and hormone treatments.

The specialist care team looking after you will:

  • explain the treatments, benefits and side effects
  • work with you to create a treatment plan that is best for you
  • talk to you about how treatment may affect you, for instance if there are any side effects

You'll have regular check-ups during and after any treatments. You may also have tests and scans.

If you have any symptoms or side effects that you are worried about, talk to your specialists. You do not need to wait for your next check-up.


The type of operation you have depends on your cancer and if it's spread.

Ovarian cancer is more treatable if it’s diagnosed early.

If your cancer is in the early stages (has not spread outside of your ovaries), you may have surgery to remove:

  • both ovaries and the fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy)
  • the opening to your womb from your vagina (cervix) and your womb (abdominal hysterectomy)

If the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, you may need more surgery to remove as much of it as possible.

This surgery may include removing parts of the bowel.


Chemotherapy is medicine that kills cancer cells.

It may be given before and after surgery, or it may be used on its own.

It may also be used for ovarian cancer that has come back.


Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays of radiation to kill cancer cells.

You may have radiotherapy for ovarian cancer to:

  • treat advanced cancer if other treatments are not right for you
  • help with symptoms, such as bleeding, pain or discomfort

Targeted therapies

Targeted therapies are medicines that only target things that help cancer cells to grow or survive.

They may be an option for advanced ovarian cancer that has come back.

Hormone therapy

Some ovarian cancers need the hormone oestrogen to grow.

Hormone treatments can block the production of oestrogen to stop some cancers from growing. These medicines are rarely used.

Your doctor will tell you if hormone treatment is right for you, and how to check for and deal with any side effects.

Ovarian cancer and fertility

Treatment for ovarian cancer in younger women can affect periods and fertility, which may mean you may not be able to have a baby.

Find out more

What happens if you have been told your cancer cannot be cured

If you have advanced ovarian cancer, it might be very hard to treat. It may not be possible to cure the cancer.

If this is the case, the aim of your treatment will be to limit the cancer and its symptoms, and help you live longer.

You will be referred to a special team of doctors and nurses called the palliative care team or symptom control team.

They will work with you to help manage your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable. The clinical nurse specialist or palliative care team can also help you and your loved ones get any support you need.

Support organisations

You and your loved ones will be supported throughout your ovarian cancer treatment by a group of specialists.

The clinical nurse specialist, or another member of your specialist team will be able to give you information on local support services that you may find helpful.

There are also national cancer charities that offer support and information about ovarian cancer.

Macmillan Cancer Support

Information and support for anyone affected by cancer.

Cancer Research UK

Information and support for anyone affected by cancer.


Information and support for anyone affected by ovarian cancer.

Target Ovarian cancer

Information and support for anyone affected by ovarian cancer.

Eve Appeal

Information and support for anyone affected by vaginal, ovarian, cervical, and vulval cancers.

Maggie's Centres

Practical, emotional and social support for anyone affected by cancer.

Marie Curie

Care and support for anyone affected by a terminal illness.

The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website
Last Updated: 15/03/2024 11:18:12