Ovarian Cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer involves abnormal cell growth within the ovary and surrounding tissues.

This cancer can be hard to diagnose as symptoms are often dismissed or attributed to other issues.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in Singapore.1

Ovarian cancer can be one of three types: 1

  • Epithelial– which can involve either one or both ovaries, where cancer cells grow on the outside of the ovary. This type of ovarian cancer is the most common form, accounting for approximately 90% of ovarian cancers.2
  • Germ cell – involves the cells that produce the eggs, and account for approximately 4% of all ovarian cancers.2
  • Stromal tumour – involves the tissues that support the ovary in producing oestrogen and progesterone hormones. This type of ovarian cancer is very rare.2

Is ovarian cancer hereditary?

In some cases ovarian cancer is due to mutations in the genes BRCA 1 (Breast Cancer 1) and BRCA 2 (Breast Cancer 2). Mutations in these genes are also involved in the increased risk of breast cancer.

Approximately 15% of ovarian cancers can be explained by these gene mutations. 6

Stages of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is typically staged using the FIGO (International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics) system.9  

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

Currently there is no single reliable screening test to diagnose ovarian cancer. Typically a blood test to test for CA125 – a common marker for ovarian cancer can be done, along with an ultrasound scan. 9 However ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed with surgery.

Therefore knowing your body and being aware of any changes and symptoms is important.8

Some common symptoms to be aware of include:


in the abdomen or pelvic area

Changes in urinating

more frequent or urgent need to pass urine


between periods or after menopause


or an extended abdomen


Reduced appetite

or a feeling of being full after small meals

Changes in bowel habits

such as constipation or diarrhoea

Weight gain or loss

that can’t be explained by diet and exercise-related factors

Whilst these symptoms may be due to other causes besides ovarian cancer, it is always important to see your doctor.


Frequently asked questions

What causes ovarian cancer?

Whilst there is no one cause of ovarian cancer, risk factors include: 1

  • Women with few pregnancies or who have never been pregnant
  • A family history of the disease
  • A high-fat diet
  • Early menarche and late menopause.
What can I do to decrease my risk of ovarian cancer?

Whilst the exact cause of ovarian cancer is not known, there are some factors that can reduce your risk for developing ovarian cancer, such as:

  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding and taking birth control reduce the frequency of egg production (ovulation) which is thought to decrease the risk of developing cancer of the ovary.4
  • Tubal ligation (cutting and tying the fallopian tubes) as well as hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) are also thought to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, through the reduction of cancer-causing substances reaching the ovaries. 4
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – Maintain a healthy weight within the normal BMI (Body Mass Index)* range of 18.5 – 24.9kg/m25


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