Cancer is a term used to describe a group of diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade other tissue in the body.

The body is made up of many types of cells that grow and divide in a controlled way to produce more cells that are needed to keep the body healthy. When cells become old or damaged, they die and are replaced with new cells.

Sometimes the genetic material (DNA) of a cell becomes damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. When this happens, cells do not die when they should, and new cells form when the body does not need them. The extra cells may form a mass of tissue called a tumour.

Ovarian cancer refers to a group of distinct cancers that originate at or near the ovaries.


Ovaries are reproductive glands found in females. Each female has two ovaries, located in the lower abdomen (belly), on each side of the uterus. The ovaries produce eggs (ova) for reproduction and the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Cells in the ovaries

The ovaries are made up of three main kinds of cells:

  • Epithelial cells – these cells are found on the outer surface of the ovary.
  • Germ cells – these cells are found inside the ovary, and form the eggs.
  • Stromal cells – these cells form the structural tissue that hold the ovary together.

Each of these types of cells may develop into a different type of tumour.

Internal female reproductive anatomy

Types of ovarian cancer

It is very important to remember that ovarian cancer is not just one disease, it is a group of diseases.

Each type of ovarian cancer is different and are broadly classified according to which type of ovarian cell they start from (epithelial, germ, or stromal).

Ovarian tumours may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Ovarian tumours that are malignant (cancerous) can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and can be serious.