Ovarian Cancer

Cancer of the Ovaries is the second most common gynaecological cancer in Australia. Every year, more than 1500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the 7th most common cancer in women worldwide. There is almost a quarter of a million women newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year globally. The incidence of ovarian cancer increases with increasing age. Ovarian cancer is most commonly diagnosed between 50 to 59 years of age.


The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are non-specific, and the disease is often not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage. Symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

    • Bloating
    • Abdominal pain
    • Weight loss
    • Loss of appetite
    • Urinary symptoms (e.g. increased frequency of urination)
    • Change of bowel habit

As many of these symptoms are also often experienced by women who do NOT have ovarian cancer, ovarian cancer is often not suspected until significant symptoms and signs develop.

Risk Factors

Some women may be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Some of these risk factors include:

    • Family history of ovarian cancer
    • Familial ovarian cancer syndromes
    • Age
    • Infertility
    • Endometriosis
    • Hormone replacement therapy

The risk of ovarian cancer may be decreased in women with a history of:

    • Pregnancy
    • Breastfeeding
    • Use of the oral contraceptive pill
    • Tubal ligation or Hysterectomy


Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes). Suspicious tissues are sent to the pathologist during surgery for immediate testing (frozen section), and if cancer is confirmed, Dr Amy Tang will proceed with a staging procedure to ascertain the extent of spread of the cancer.

Most patients will require chemotherapy after the surgery, as scientific studies have shown this contributes to an improved outcome and survival. If the ovarian cancer is in the very early stage with no evidence of spread anywhere else in the body, chemotherapy may not be required.


When ovarian cancer is suspected, the diagnosis is not established until after the surgery, when tissue is sent to the pathologist to confirm the diagnosis. Prior to surgery, blood tests called tumour markers (CA125, CA19.9, CEA, HE4) and radiological imaging (CT scan, ultrasound) may help to give an estimate of the risk of malignancy.

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