Ovarian cancer explained

Often called the ‘silent killer’ because symptoms are not always apparent until the disease is advanced, ovarian cancer will affect an estimated 1500 Australian women in 2017. Ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries, fallopian tubes or peritoneum grow out of control.

February is ‘Ovarian Awareness Month’, organised by Ovarian Cancer Australia to recognise those affected by ovarian cancer and promote conversations about the disease.

There is currently no effective screening test for ovarian cancer so it’s important to be aware of the most common symptoms, which are:

  • abdominal bloating or pelvic pain
  • loss of appetite or feeling full after eating only a small amount
  • changes to bowel habits
  • needing to urinate more frequently
  • unexplained weight loss
  • back pain
  • pain during intercourse
  • unexplained tiredness.


Most women who experience such symptoms may not have ovarian cancer, but it still is a good idea to have a check-up for peace of mind. So, consult your GP if you experience any of these complaints multiple times in any four-week period.

Diagnosis is by way of a physical examination to check for a mass or lump in the lower abdomen, blood test and transvaginal ultrasound, followed possibly by a CT or MRI scan.

Treatment usually involves an operation (called a laparotomy), which is sometimes also necessary to reach a diagnosis. During surgery, the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, omentum (layer of fat that insulates the lower abdominal organs), appendix and lymph glands may be removed. Some of the bowel may also be taken away. Chemotherapy, which attacks cancerous cells and stops their growth, is usually required; in some cases radiotherapy is given. Complementary therapies, alongside more traditional treatments, can help with overall wellbeing, including dealing with side effects, relieving stress and anxiety.

The exact causes of ovarian cancer are not known, but certain risk factors may be contributory ones, including:

  • family history of ovarian cancer
  • family history of breast and colon cancer
  • inherited mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • history of endometriosis
  • increasing age
  • smoking.


With the hope that “cake, cuppa, conversations and donations may just save a life”, the focus this February takes afternoon tea as its inspiration. Participants can host an event to encourage discussion and help with fund-raising ideas.

Have you, or a friend, or member of your family, been affected by ovarian cancer? To find out more about hosting an awareness/fund-raising event, or to download a symptom diary, visit: Ovarian Cancer Australia

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