About Ovarian Cancer

In this section you can find out more about:

This will help to give you a better understanding of the disease. Remember, if you want to know more or you have further questions, note them down and speak to your medical professional.

What is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries.

The ovaries are two small organs that form part of a woman’s reproductive system. There’s an ovary on either side of the body and they are found in the lower part of the abdomen (beneath the stomach). You can see them in this diagram.


The ovaries produce eggs and also secrete the female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone.

Ovarian cancer occurs when some of the cells in the ovary change and begin to grow in an uncontrolled way forming a tumour.

There are three main types of ovarian cancer:


  • Epithelial carcinoma: this cancer is found in the cells that cover the surface of the ovary (the epithelium). This is the most common form of ovarian cancer.
  • Germ cell carcinoma: this is an uncommon form of ovarian cancer in which the tumour starts in the egg-producing cells of the ovary.
  • Sex-cord stromal cell tumours: this is a rare type of ovarian cancer in which the tumour forms in the stromal cells of the ovary.

Who gets Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer among females in New Zealand, with around 300 cases diagnosed each year.1 The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age — 85% of all cases in New Zealand occur in women over 45 years of age.2

The causes of ovarian cancer are still not completely understood, but we do know that risk increases:

  • As you get older
  • If you have a family history of the disease
  • If you are obese
  • If you have had few pregnancies or never been pregnant.

These are general risk factors only and they do not necessarily mean that you will have ovarian cancer. Check with your doctor if you have any concerns.

  1. Ministry of Health. Cancer: New registrations and deaths 2011. Available at: http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/p... Accessed 11 April 2015.
  2. New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation. Understanding Ovarian Cancer. Available at: http://www.nzgcf.org.nz/index.cfm/pageid/165/ViewP... - Accessed 9 April 2015.