What's the story?

Ovarian cancer

  • Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women, with around 7,300 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year
  • A woman dies of ovarian cancer every two hours (4,200 deaths per year)
  • Currently, only 46% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will survive beyond five years
  • Ovarian cancer has a very high rate of recurrence; the disease recurs in between 70 - 90% of cases
  • The UK has the worst survival rate in Europe

Click to download our ovarian cancer survival rates poster

Euro infographic small


Early diagnosis

  • Women diagnosed at stage 1 have a 90% survival rate, compared to 19% at stage 3. 
  • 58% of cases are diagnosed at a later stage (stages three and four)
  • There is currently no screening tool for ovarian cancer so knowing the symptoms is the key to early diagnosis.

Survival by stage


The symptoms

Ovarian cancer has four main symptoms: 

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating
  • Finding it difficult to eat or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to wee more often
Other symptoms may include:
  •  Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
  • A change in bowel habits (going more often or more frequently) 
  • Unexplained weight loss
If these symptoms are persistent, severe, and frequent or out of the ordinary, visit your GP immediately. Click here to download our symptoms poster

IBS or ovarian cancer?

One of the challenges of spotting ovarian cancer symptoms is that they are often mistaken for less serious conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). 

IBS Ovarian cancer
IBS usually develops for the first time in patients in their 20s and 30s If you develop IBS symptoms for the first time in your 50s or later, it is unlikely to be IBS
IBS symptoms come and go and are related to eating particular foods and stress • Ovarian cancer symptoms are persistent and are not affected by your diet or stress

Diagnosing ovarian cancer 

Cervical screening does not detect ovarian cancer. There is currently no national screening programme.

Doctors can arrange a number of tests to rule out ovarian cancer including:

  • Physical examination
  • CA125 blood test
  • Pelvic ultrasound scan

There is currently no screening tool for ovarian cancer but Ovarian Cancer Action is trying to change that. Read more about our research into an ovarian cancer screening tool.

Hereditary risk:  BRCA and other genetic mutations

People from backgrounds including Ashkenazi Jewish, Polish, Icelandic and Pakistani may be at greater risk of carrying a genetic mutation that increases ovarian cancer risk. 

  • A woman’s lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1 in 52, rising to 1 in 2 if she carries BRCA gene mutation (15 - 20% of ovarian cancer cases)
  • In a recent survey we did of the general population, 71% had never heard of BRCA mutations
  • People with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are 10X as likely to carry a BRCA mutation (1 in 40 compared to 1 in 400)

Ovarian Cancer Action

Ovarian Cancer Action is the UK’s ovarian cancer research charity and its mission is to fund research that saves lives. 

Every four years Ovarian Cancer Action curates and hosts The HHMT International Forum on Ovarian Cancer: a conference of international ovarian cancer experts.  It brings together scientists across all disciplines to debate and determine the priorities in ovarian cancer research. These are published in the leading science journal Nature Reviews Cancer. These priorities inform our own research objectives.

The Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre was founded in 2006 and is now home to 70 scientists. Led by Professor Iain McNeish, the team is made up of both lab-based scientists, and clinician scientists, (including surgeons and oncologists), who work in the lab and treat patients. Their research is international, collaborative and translational – meaning it aims to ‘translate’ directly into new medicines, procedures and diagnostic tools that will benefit patients directly. Ovarian Cancer Action currently funds research into the following areas:

  • Reducing the chance of relapse
  • Stopping ovarian cancer in its tracks
  • Personalised medicine and prevention
  • Genetic risk screening
  • Personalised treatment
  • Early detection and screening
  • Cancer biology

For further info, case studies and more, call Tori on 020 7380 1735 or email Tori@ovarian.org.uk