The ovaries

The ovaries are two small, oval-shaped organs in the pelvis (the area between the hips in the lower part of the tummy). They are part of the female reproductive system, which is made up of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, womb (uterus), cervix and vagina.

Each month, in women of childbearing age, one of the ovaries produces an egg (ovulation). The egg passes down the fallopian tube to the womb. If the egg isn’t fertilised by a sperm, it passes out of the womb as part of the monthly period.

The ovaries also produce the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. As a woman gets nearer to the menopause, the ovaries make less of these hormones and your periods gradually stop.

The ovaries and surrounding structures
The ovaries and surrounding structures

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Organs close to the ovaries

There are several organs close to the ovaries. These include:

  • the bladder
  • the ureters, which drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder
  • the back passage (rectum)
  • part of the bowel
  • the peritoneum – a membrane that surrounds and keeps the pelvic and abdominal organs in place
  • the omentum – a fatty membrane made up of a fold of the peritoneum at the front of the abdomen, which extends from the lower curve of the stomach and covers the front of the bowel 
  • groups of lymph nodes
  • the womb.

Organs close to the ovaries
Organs close to the ovaries

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Side view of the body
Side view of the body

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Back to Understanding ovarian cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease of our cells. Sometimes cells go wrong and become abnormal. They keep dividing to make more abnormal cells which form a lump or tumour.

Types of ovarian cancer

Most ovarian cancers start in the cells that cover the surface of the ovary. There are several types.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.