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ovarian cancer – a silent disease


Every year more than 1500 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The main risk factor for ovarian cancer is increasing age with more than 4 in 5 being over 50 years old. The average age at diagnosis is 64.

Ovarian cancer is hard to diagnose at an early stage, with women not recognising that their symptoms (which can be vague) as possibly being due to cancer.

There are different types of ovarian cancer, but the most common type is epithelial ovarian cancer, which begins in the cells that line the surface of the ovary. Other types include germ cell tumours and stromal cell tumours.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include-

  1. Increasing age
  2. Hereditary factors account for 20% of ovarian cancer – family history of breast, ovarian and some other cancers, BRCA mutations.
  3. Other smaller risks include obesity, smoking, having endometriosis, not having children and current use of HRT.

HRT as a risk for developing ovarian cancer is controversial. Most studies do not show an increased risk. A large meta-analysis (collection of studies) suggested a small increase risk in current HRT users of less than 1 extra case in every 1000 cases. Some research shows survival benefit in ovarian cancer patients who are placed on HRT and the oral contraceptive pill, a form of hormone therapy,  is considered to reduce risk. Further research will be conducted to explore these confusing findings.


There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer, all women need to be aware of the symptoms.

The most commonly reported symptoms for ovarian cancer are:

  • Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal or pelvic (lower tummy) pain
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount
  • Needing to urinate often or urgently

Additional Symptoms-

  • Changes in bowel habit
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Lower back pain
  • Indigestion or nausea
  • Bleeding after menopause or in-between periods
  • Pain during sex or bleeding after

All these symptoms can be caused by other, less serious medical conditions but it is important you get checked to make sure especially if they are new for you and you have experienced them multiple times over the past month.

Diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made through a combination of physical examination, pelvic exam, imaging tests (such as ultrasound or CT scan), and biopsy. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, depending on the stage and type of cancer.

Early detection is key in the successful treatment of ovarian cancer. Women who are at high risk or have symptoms should talk to their doctor and get regular check-ups and screenings. Currently, there are no screening tests that are recommended so awareness and attention to early symptoms is the key.


This information is for general educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Please see your health professional for advice that is personalised to you.
Key Take Aways


Early detection is the key


The most common symptoms are –

    • Abdominal or pelvic pain.
    • Increased abdominal size or persistent bloating.
    • Needing to urinate often or urgently.
    • Feeling full after eating a small amount.


Other resources

 Ovarian Cancer Australia

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