Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer

Two scientists in lab smiling and looking at a histology slide
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer-related death in Australian women. More than 1800 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year in Australia, and nearly 1000 women die from the disease each year.
There has been little improvement in survival rates over the past 30 years. There is a great need for better diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer. This is the motivation for our ovarian cancer researchers.

Our ovarian cancer research

Our ovarian cancer researchers aim to:

  • Discover how epithelial ovarian cancer starts.
  • Develop better ways to treat ovarian cancer.
  • Assess new ovarian cancer treatments in laboratory models and clinical trials.
  • Establish markers that predict a patient’s response to treatment.

What is ovarian cancer?

Cancer of the ovary arises from cells that develop changes that enable uncontrolled growth.

The normal function of the ovary is to enable female reproduction by producing egg cells (ova) and female hormones, including oestrogen and progesterone.

Ovarian cancers are classified by the type of cells they originate from:

  • Epithelial ovarian cancer resembles the cells that form the outer lining of the ovary or the inner lining of the uterine tubes
  • Stromal ovarian cancers arise from the hormone-producing cells of the ovaries.
  • Germ cell ovarian cancers develop from egg cell precursor cells.

Ninety per cent of ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer risk factors

Around 15 per cent of ovarian cancers cases in Australia are hereditary. This means they are associated with inheriting a change in an ovarian cancer susceptibility gene, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, which also places the woman at an elevated risk of breast cancer. Other women in her family may be at increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer.

Epithelial ovarian cancer starts to become more common in women over the age of 50.

How is ovarian cancer treated?

Epithelial ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed after it has spread beyond the ovary or fallopian tube (metastasised). Most patients with epithelial ovarian cancers are treated with surgery, to remove tumour masses, and chemotherapy to kill remaining cancer cells.

Unlike many other cancers, survival rates for epithelial ovarian cancer have seen little improvement in the past 30 years. Only 45 per cent of patients will be alive five years after their diagnosis.

Stromal ovarian cancer and germ cell ovarian cancer tend to have better responses to chemotherapy.

More information about ovarian cancer treatments is available from Ovarian Cancer Australia and Cancer Australia.

WEHI researchers are not able to provide specific medical advice specific to individuals. If you have cancer and wish to find out more information about clinical trials, please visit the Australian Cancer Trials or the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, or consult your medical specialist.


Associate Professor Sumitra Ananda

Associate Professor Sumitra Ananda at the Institute
Associate Professor
Clinical Research Fellow

Professor Clare Scott

Professor Clare Scott AM
Joint Division Head

Professor Peter Gibbs

Peter Gibbs in his office
Joint Division Head

Dr Gwo Yaw Ho

Dr Gwo Yaw Ho in the lab
Gwo Yaw
Clinician Scientist
Super Content: 
Two female researchers outside a laboratory

Clinician scientists Associate Professor Jeanne Tie and Associate Professor Sumitra Ananda are leading trials of a blood test to guide cancer treatment after surgery.

Two scientists in lab smiling at camera

Dr Olga Kondrashova and Professor Clare Scott are helping to match ovarian cancer patients with the right treatment for their cancer.

Angelina Jolie portrait

Here's what you should know about ovarian cancer risk, writes Associate Professor Clare Scott for The Conversation.