Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Understanding symptoms and Prevention

February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Each year in Australia around 1,815 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, this ovarian cancer statistic is highly significant. Due to its diagnostic challenges, in most cases the cancer will be diagnosed at a late, advanced stage. It has the poorest survival rate of any female cancer in Australia.

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

What are the ovaries?

The ovaries are two small organs that are found in the lower abdomen. There is one ovary on either side of the uterus at the end of the fallopian tube. These together form the reproductive system. 

Each month, from puberty to menopause, the ovaries release an egg and this is the ovulation process. The egg travels along the fallopian tube towards the uterus. The egg either then gets fertilised by sperm and grows a baby, or it is not fertilised and the uterus lining sheds, creating a period. This is our menstrual cycle.

What are the ovaries


Throughout the period of menopause, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone that are created in the ovaries begin to decrease. Once the levels of these hormones diminish enough, periods stop. 

What are the main symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Early warning signs for ovarian cancer:

  1. Persistent abdominal bloating,
  2. Abdominal pain
  3. Needing to urinate urgently 
  4. Feeling full after a small amount of food
  5. Changes in appetite
  6. Fatigue 
  7. Unexplained weight loss or weight gain

Other reported symptoms may be:

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • 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

Am I at risk of developing ovarian cancer?

The exact causes of ovarian cancer remain unknown, However there is emerging research to show that there may be increased risks of a woman developing ovarian cancer.

  1. Age 
  2. Genetics and hereditary factors
  3. Endometriosis
  4. Previous breast cancer
  5. Diabetes
  6. Weight
  7. Smoking

Ovarian cancer is highest in postmenopausal women, with the average age of diagnosis being 64 years old. 

If I use HRT (hormone replacement therapy), am I more at risk?

HRT is commonly used to reduce symptoms throughout the perimenopausal and postmenopausal period. It raises oestrogen levels in the body, which are chemical messengers that act on different organs, skin, muscle tissue, fertility and mood. Hence the widespread symptoms you experience during this period in your life. 

Years ago there were studies linking HRT with higher risks of breast cancer due to oestrogen playing a factor in specific types of cancerous cells. If you have previously had breast cancer, or have a family history of it – it is always best to chat to your GP about your concerns. 

You know your body better than anyone else, so always listen to what your body is saying and trust your instincts.


A Pap test does not detect ovarian cancer! It is only used for cervical cancer. Therefore detecting the early warning signs of ovarian based cancers is imperative. There is currently no reliable population based screening test for early ovarian cancer signs. The current testing methods are:

  • CA125 blood test
  • Transvaginal Ultrasound

What treatment is available?

This is dependent on the stage and type of the cancer. Surgery is commonly used as the main treatment, followed with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. 


Reliable sources for ovarian cancer information