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What is ovarian cancer?

Our bodies are made up of billions of cells which are constantly replaced when they are old, damaged, or worn out. To replace a cell, our bodies make a copy of a healthy cell by splitting in two and destroying the old or worn-out cell. Cancer develops when this process of division happens in an uncontrolled and unusual way, resulting in the cell dividing and multiplying until if forms a lump called a tumour.

Tumours can be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant). Benign (non-cancerous) tumours do not usually spread to other parts of the body. They may require some treatment but are rarely life threatening. If the tumour is malignant (cancerous), it is cancerous and when left untreated may spread to other parts of the body.

What are the ovaries?

The ovaries are two small glands that form part of the female reproductive system, which is also made up of the vagina, cervix, uterus (womb) and fallopian tubes. Ovaries have two main functions:

  • Produce, store, and release eggs for reproduction
  • Produce the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women, with around 7,500 diagnoses each year. Ovarian cancer starts when abnormal cells in and around the ovary and fallopian tubes grow and divide in an uncontrolled way and form a cancerous tumour (malignant). The cancerous cells grow into surrounding tissues and can spread to other parts of the body.

There are several different types of ovarian cancer and type of cancer depends on the type of cell and tissue the cancer starts in.

Treatment of ovarian cancer will depend on the type, stage, and grade of the cancer you’re diagnosed with, however the earlier the cancer is diagnosed the easier it is to treat 

Reviewed: Oct 2022

Next review: Dec 2024