Healthy Living Hub / Women's health / Ovarian cancer: what you need to know

Ovarian cancer: what you need to know

September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month (GCAM), which Simplyhealth are supporting as part of our ongoing women’s health campaign.

There are five main types of gynaecologic cancer, cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. All impacting women through all life stages, though ovarian cancer is the UK’s most deadly gynaecological disease1. It is often overlooked, misunderstood and misdiagnosed, so we have partnered with the UK’s leading ovarian cancer charity, Ovarian Cancer Action (OCA) to improve public understanding of ovarian cancer symptoms and encourage quick action for anyone experiencing them across the UK.


What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer occurs when there are abnormal cells in the ovary which multiply, creating a tumour. Tumours will either be benign or malignant. Benign tumours are non-cancerous and do not usually spread to other parts of the body. They may require some treatment but are rarely life threatening. If the tumour is malignant, it is cancerous and when left untreated may spread to other parts of the body.  

Around 21 cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the UK every day, with 1 in 50 UK females diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime. However, 11% of ovarian cancer cases in the UK are preventable2.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer has four main symptoms:

  • persistent stomach pain
  • persistent bloating
  • difficulty eating/feeling full more quickly
  • needing to wee more frequently.

These can also be symptoms of other, less serious, conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome so if you’re experiencing them, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have ovarian cancer. Other ovarian cancer symptoms might also include:

  • back pain
  • changes in bowel habits (going more often or a lot less)
  • extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

Ovarian cancer is not regularly screened for, so it’s even more important to be aware of the symptoms. If your symptoms are persistent, severe, frequent or out of the ordinary, we encourage you to make an appointment with a GP.

Find out more about women’s health screenings here.

Ovarian Cancer Action recommend keeping a record of what symptoms you are experiencing to have to hand when you speak to your doctor, this will help make a speedier diagnosis. You can download a paper symptoms diary from the Ovarian Cancer Action Website.

Woman in waiting room

Understanding the risk factors of ovarian cancer?

Family history

If two or more relatives have had ovarian cancer under the age of 50, or there has been more than one case of ovarian and breast cancer in your family, you may have inherited a BRCA1/2 gene mutation, meaning you have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. The BRCA1/2 gene mutations are associated with an up to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. 

If you are concerned about your risk, due to family history, Ovarian Cancer Action have developed, in partnership with genetics experts at the Royal Marsden, the Hereditary Cancer Risk Tool. The tool helps people identify if their family history puts them at risk of ovarian and other cancers, as well as the risk-reducing options available.

Ovarian Cancer Action have information, advice and support available through their BRCA Hub


Around 84% of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 50, however, women can get ovarian cancer at any age, so it is vital women of all ages are symptom aware.

Long menstrual history

Ovarian cancer is linked to increased ovulations, meaning those who started their  periods earlier, have reached the menopause at a later age, or never given birth, could be at a higher risk.


Research shows that women who have endometriosis are at increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

Research shows that a small percentage (around 1%) of women using oestrogen-only or combined, are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Women should discuss all risks and benefits with their consultant when making decisions about HRT.

Can I reduce my risk?

Ovarian Cancer Action suggest a number of ways you can reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer, including maintaining a health lifestyle, taking the combined oral contraceptive pill, giving birth and breast feeding. For more information please visit:

How Simplyhealth can help

If you have any of the symptoms listed, particularly if they are not normal for you, are persistent, are reoccurring episodes or they do not go away, please consult a GP.

Simplyhealth health plan holders can access a GP 24/7 via video through the SimplyPlan app. This service could be the first step to discussing your symptoms and providing a referral if needed.

We also have a 24/7 counselling service if you’re struggling to cope with symptoms or feeling overwhelmed, you can access this phone number through my wellbeing on your Simplyhealth account. A qualified professional is waiting at the end of the phone to offer immediate practical information and emotional support.

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Related guide


A guide to women's health

Other articles around women's health, including menopause and pelvic health, written with the support of the Lady Garden Foundation.