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What is ovarian cancer?

Every year 7,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We want to help women learn about ovarian cancer and symptoms of ovarian cancer. The sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. 

What is cancer?

Our bodies are made up of millions of building blocks called cells. Our body is constantly replacing worn out cells with new ones, when we hurt ourselves (for example, get a cut or graze) and to maintain good health.

When an old cell is destroyed, one of the remaining cells will make a copy of itself by dividing into two, replacing the old cell.  This process is usually carefully controlled so that the number of new cells created is the same as the number that were removed. 

However, sometimes a cell can’t respond to the signals that tell it to stop dividing. The cell divides uncontrollably, making more and more copies of itself, eventually forming a lump called a tumour.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is cancer arising from the cells in and around the ovary.

The ovaries are two small organs located low in the tummy, just above the pubic area. They form part of a woman's reproductive system, storing a woman's supply of eggs. Each month an egg is released from one of the ovaries into the womb ready for fertilisation. The ovaries are also responsible for making the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

There are several different types of ovarian cancer classified by the types of cells and tissue they originate from.

Are all ovarian tumours cancerous?

Most tumours on the ovaries are not cancerous, but benign. They are not life threatening and can occur for a number of reasons. Only around one in five ovarian masses found in women still having their periods (menstruating) are cancerous. That figure rises in post-menopausal women to one in every two tumours.

The information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.


Last reviewed: February 2013
Next review: Currently under review 

Find out more

Symptoms Diary app

A bloated tummy, needing to wee more, tummy pain, and always feeling full could all be symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Our free Symptoms Diary app is an easy way to record your symptoms and communicate more effectively with your GP