Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer includes tumours of the ovaries (where eggs form and oestrogen and progesterone are made) and tumours in the fallopian tubes and lining of the abdominal cavity. Ovarian cancer is more common after you have been through menopause but it can be found in younger people.

Risks of ovarian cancer

There are a few things that we know can increase your chance of getting ovarian cancer. These include:

  • being overweight
  • not having tamariki (children)
  • having a late menopause (after 55 years old)
  • getting older
  • having had breast cancer
  • have inherited an abnormal gene such as a BRAC gene mutation
  • family history of ovarian cancer or a family cancer syndrome.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

There are very few symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Most, but not all people, experience at least one symptom before they are diagnosed.

Symptoms may include:

  • increase in tummy size or bloating
  • abdominal, pelvic or back pain
  • needing to wee (urinate) more often or more urgently
  • changes to the way you normally poo
  • eating less and feeling fuller
  • being overtired (fatigue)
  • indigestion
  • painful sex
  • abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • unexplained weight change.

These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer. But if symptoms are new, unusual or getting worse and last for 2 weeks or longer, get them checked by your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Diagnosing ovarian cancer

Your healthcare provider will:

  • examine you including a pelvic examination
  • arrange an ultrasound scan of your ovaries
  • send you for blood tests including one to measure your levels of a protein called CA-125

If these tests are positive, then the extent of the cancer will be assessed by other scans, for example, a CT scan, MRI scan, or PET scan.

Treating ovarian cancer

The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on:

  • the type and stage (how far it has spread)
  • the severity of your symptoms
  • your preferences.

If the cancer is found early, then surgery to remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes may be the only treatment that is required.

If the cancer is not found early treatment may include:

  • surgery to remove your uterus (womb), omentum (the fatty layer that sits on the surface of your organs), lymph nodes, part of the large bowel and your appendix
  • chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells) which can be given before or after surgery.

You may also have to have radiotherapy (radiation treatment).

While some types of ovarian cancer have a high chance of coming back (recurrence) and poor long term survival, others can be successfully treated even if found at a late stage.

It is important to get any symptoms checked early to make sure ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.


Once someone has been diagnosed with cancer, we know there are some difficult days ahead. No matter where you are on the cancer pathway, there is always someone to connect with for support.

These groups can provide support for you and your whānau.