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What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer starts in the cells of the ovary or ovaries. The ovaries are 2 small, oval-shaped organs that lie deep in the pelvis on either side of the uterus (womb), close to the end of the Fallopian tubes. The ovaries are part of a woman’s reproductive system.

 

Each month, in women of childbearing age, one of the ovaries releases an egg (ovum). This is called ovulation. The egg travels down the Fallopian tube to the uterus, where it may be fertilized by a sperm and develop into a fetus. If the egg is not fertilized, it is shed as part of the monthly menstrual period.

 

The ovaries also produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone help control reproduction and sexual development. As a woman ages and reaches menopause, the ovaries make less of these hormones and periods gradually stop.

 

There are 3 main types of ovarian cancer. Each type of cancer starts in a different type of cell found in the ovaries.

  • Epithelial cell cancer starts in the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary.
  • Germ cell tumours start in the egg cells within the ovary. These tumours usually occur in younger women, but they can develop in children.
  • Stromal tumours start in the connective tissue cells that hold the ovary together.

 

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We can give information about cancer care and support services in Canada only. To find a cancer organization in your country, visit Union for International Cancer Control or International Cancer Information Service Group.