Ovarian cancer most often happens when the cells on the surface of your ovaries, called the epithelial layer, start to grow abnormally and multiply in an uncontrolled way. Nine in every 10 cases of ovarian cancer are epithelial. However, there are more rare types of ovarian cancer including germ cell and stromal ovarian cancers. Cancer can also start in your fallopian tubes.
It mostly affects women who are post-menopausal, although younger women can be affected.
Doctors often refer to the silent signs of ovarian cancer, because the symptoms are often mild and mistaken for less serious conditions. This is why ovarian cancer is often diagnosed when it’s already progressed or spread to other parts of your body (metastasised) which makes it harder to treat.
Early ovarian cancer symptoms can often go unnoticed. The main symptoms are:
You may also notice:
These symptoms are most often a sign of something less serious, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, if you have these symptoms more than 12 times in a month, you should see your doctor.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms. They may do the following:
You may be referred to hospital or to a gynaecologist for further tests including:
If your doctor suspects ovarian cancer, they may need to take small tissue samples of your ovaries (biopsies) to test, using either:
Other tests will be needed to see if your cancer has spread to other parts of your body, such as a CT scan or a chest X-ray.
These tests will help your doctor to decide what stage your cancer is at and which treatment to use.
The exact cause isn’t known. However, certain things are known to increase your risk of getting ovarian cancer:
Your treatment will depend on the type and stage of your ovarian cancer and if it’s spread to other parts of your body. These include: