Looking for more information on ovarian cancer? We answer some of the most common questions that people ask about the disease. If you have a question that isn't answered below, please email Ross@ovarian.org.uk.
- Is there an ovarian cancer screening test?
There is currently no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, meaning that symptom awareness is our best means of early detection. The key symptoms to look out for include persistent bloating, feeling full quickly, abdominal pain and needing to wee more often.
It is also important to note that the smear test, (now more commonly known as the cervical screening test), is not used to detect ovarian cancer. This is a method of detecting abnormal cells in the cervix that could lead to cervical cancer. Click here for more information on cervical cancer.
We are currently funding a research team at the University of Oxford who have made significant discoveries in the field of early detection that could form the foundations of a screening tool.
- What is a CA125 test?
If your GP thinks your symptoms could be a sign of ovarian cancer, they'll recommend you have a blood test to check the level of a protein called CA125 in your blood.
A high level of CA125 in your blood is a possible indicator of ovarian cancer, as CA125 can sometimes be produced by ovarian cancer cells. However, it’s important to note that a raised CA125 level isn’t necessarily a sign you have cancer, as there are a number of other reasons it may be raised higher than average . These can include: endometriosis, fibroids, pregnancy, or even being on your period. Some women have a naturally high CA125 level.
Sometimes your CA125 level can be normal in the early stages of ovarian cancer. If you've had a normal test result but your symptoms don't improve, go back to your GP as you may need to be re-tested.
If the test finds a high level of CA125, you will be referred to your local hospital for further investigations.
- What is a normal CA125 level?
The normal values for CA125 vary slightly among women. However, guidelines state that a normal level is considered to be 0 to 35 units/ml.
- What is an ultrasound scan?
If your CA125 levels are elevated, the next step will be a referral to the radiology department of your local hospital for an ultrasound scan.
There are two different types of ultrasound scan used to help establish the cause of your symptoms and a raised CA125 what could be causing symptoms and a raised CA125: pelvic and transvaginal.
A pelvic ultrasound scan is done to create a picture of the organs inside your abdominal area. This is done by moving a handheld device over your stomach.
Sometimes a clearer pictures is required and a transvaginal ultrasound will be carried out. This involves a small probe being inserted into your vagina to look for any possible changes to your ovaries.
- Can I reduce my risk of ovarian cancer?
Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do that will eliminate our chances of getting ovarian cancer, but there are some factors that may increase or decrease your risk.
Family history, age, lifestyle and a long menstrual history are all factors that can affect your risk of getting ovarian cancer. Click here for more information.
- Is ovarian cancer hereditary?
If two or more relatives from the same side of your family have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50, or there has been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family, you may have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
This may be because you have inherited a BRCA1/2 gene mutation. BRCA1/2 gene mutations are associated with an up to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. You can visit our BRCA hub for all the information, advice and support you need about BRCA1/2 gene mutations.
- Are there clinical trials for ovarian cancer?
Yes, there are a number of different clinical trials. Eligibility depends on your individual circumstances, but you can search for trials and see if they are suitable for you by visiting the UK Clinical Trials Gateway.
For more information about clinical trials download our treating ovarian cancer booklet.
- Are there different types of ovarian cancer?
There are three types of ovarian tumour: epithelial, germ cell and sex-cord stromal.
Around 90% of ovarian cancer tumours are epithelial, the majority of which are known as serous epithelial ovarian cancer. These tumours occur most commonly in women between the ages of 40 and 60.
For more information on the different types and stages of ovarian cancer, click here.
- Will my ovarian cyst lead to cancer?
No. Masses that have been identified as benign ovarian cysts will not develop into ovarian cancer. Sometimes very large cysts will be surgically removed, but generally a cyst can be left to disappear by itself.
Sometimes an ovarian cyst can lead to symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer, but they are not a risk factor in the disease.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition that can affect how a woman’s ovaries work. Here the ovaries become enlarged and contain fluid filled sacs as opposed to having actual cysts on the ovary.
Like ovarian cysts, polycystic ovary syndrome is not a risk factor in ovarian cancer. For more information about PCOS visit the NHS Choices website.
- Does endometriosis cause ovarian cancer?
Endometriosis is a common condition in women where tissue that behaves like the lining of the womb (endometrium) is found in other parts of the body.
Studies show endometriosis is associated with an increased ovarian cancer risk, although the increased risk is thought to be very small. The majority of women who have endometriosis will not get ovarian cancer, and those who do tend to be diagnosed at an earlier stage, and therefore have much better outcomes.
If you have endometriosis and are concerned about ovarian cancer, the best thing to do is to be aware of the symptoms of the disease and act by visiting your GP as soon as you notice something is not right, or if the symptoms you experience with your endometriosis get worse.
- Can young women get ovarian cancer?
Yes. although 82% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over the age of 50, it’s important to remember that it can also affect younger women.
The number of under-50s diagnosed with ovarian cancer is on the increase, so it’s vital they are supported and have access to information that is appropriate for them. Click here to download a copy of our Younger Woman’s Guide to Ovarian Cancer.
- Will my ovarian cancer come back?
In 70% of cases ovarian cancer will come back within five years of the patient completing treatment. Further treatment options depends on the time frame that your ovarian cancer has returned with in.
If it returns more than six months after you finished your first treatment it will be referred to as platinum sensitive, which means you may be able to be effectively treated with the same chemotherapy drugs you were the first time.
If it returns within six months of finishing treatment it will be referred to as platinum resistant. This means the cancer won’t respond to the same type of treatment you had after your first diagnosis. In this case your specialist will need to find a more personalised or targeted treatment for you.
To find out more about recurrent ovarian cancer and its treatment visit this section of our website.
- I’m worried about a friend or relative. How can I support them?
If you are concerned that your friend or relative may be experiencing the symptoms of ovarian cancer, or they have been diagnosed and you’re not sure what you can do to help take a look at the About Ovarian Cancer section of our website.
Here you will find information about symptoms and what women should do if they are concerned, along with useful information about how the disease is diagnosed and treated, and what the risk factors of the disease are.
If you are trying to find out more about other people’s experiences of ovarian cancer, take a look at our Voices patient stories.
- How is ovarian cancer treated?
Depending on the stage of diagnosis, most ovarian cancer will be treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. You can find more information about the different treatment paths here.
- Can I catch ovarian cancer?
No. Ovarian cancer is not contagious and close personal contact with a cancer patient cannot cause another person to develop cancer themselves.
Factors that affect people’s risk of getting ovarian cancer include age, lifestyle, menstrual history, and genetics.
If you are looking for information on hereditary ovarian cancer, please visit our BRCA Hub.
- Where can I get advice about the menopause?
Menopause Matters is an independent website providing up-to-date, accurate information about the menopause, menopausal symptoms and treatment options.
Henpicked also contains lots of information about the menopause, including early and surgically-induced menopause.
The Menopause Exchange is an independent support and advice service for women going through the menopause, including the option to sign up for free newsletters.
The Daisy Network has lots of useful information for younger women who are having issues with early menopause.
Read Laura Moses's experience of going through the menopause as a young woman.
- Can men get ovarian cancer?
Only those born with a female reproductive system can develop ovarian cancer. This includes people assigned female at birth, but are now living as a male, or transgender males who have had their ovaries removed. Anyone born with ovaries should be symptom aware and act on any concerns they have.
The LGBT Cancer Network has some useful information to consider about ovarian cancer in transgender men.
It is also worth noting that BRCA mutations can be inherited by, and passed down to, men or women. If someone has a BRCA mutation, there is a 50/50 chance they pass it onto their child, whether they have a son or a daughter. This is why it’s important to look at both sides of the family when researching family history of cancer.
It’s important for men to know about BRCA gene mutations: not only do all men have a woman in their life who could be at risk, but their own cancer risk is increased if they have a BRCA mutation. Did you know men can get breast cancer too?
- Is irregular bleeding a symptom of ovarian cancer?
The main symptoms of ovarian cancer are: persistent bloating, feeling full quickly, abdominal pain and needing to wee more often. However, you may also experience some less common symptoms, which include a change in bowel habits, back pain and extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.
Some women have experienced things such as vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge or pain during sex and been found to have ovarian cancer. While these symptoms are not usually linked to the disease, they are however a sign that something isn’t right, and you should get them checked out by your GP as soon as possible.
Our symptoms diary can be useful in helping note down possible ovarian cancer symptoms along with any other concerns that you might have.
- Can I have HRT if I’ve had ovarian cancer?
Research shows that using oestrogen-only or combined HRT increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. However, is thought that only 1% of ovarian cancer cases are linked to HRT use. Women should discuss all risks and benefits with their consultant when making decisions about its use.
- Does having IVF increase my chances of getting ovarian cancer?
There have been a number of studies carried out on the possible link between IVF and ovarian cancer risk. The evidence showed very small increases in risk in absolute numbers. Every woman is different and she may each have different risk factors.
Cancer Research UK has suggested that it is more likely that infertility itself increases ovarian cancer risk, rather than fertility treatment being the cause. More research is happening to clarify this.
Women should be armed with as much information as possible, so they can make well informed decisions about their health.
Anyone currently having IVF treatment should discuss any concerns with their consultant.
- I'm a BRCA carrier: Do I need to have a hysterectomy?
The short answer is that currently, experts working in this area don’t feel that there is enough evidence to routinely justify this operation for most BRCA-carriers.
Hysterectomy is a bigger operation than just having the tubes and ovaries removed. It takes longer to recover from a hysterectomy and there is a greater risk of complications, including infections, blood clots and damage to other organs, such as the bladder or bowel. Whilst in most cases these risks are not high, it is not good practice to expose patients to the side-effects of bigger operations unless the benefits outweighs the risks.