The ovaries, fallopian tubes and peritoneum

The ovaries and fallopian tubes are parts of the reproductive system. They are supported by a layer of tissue called the peritoneum.

The ovaries

The ovaries are 2 small, oval-shaped organs in the pelvis (the lower area between the hips). They are on either side of the womb (uterus), close to the ends of the fallopian tubes. The ovaries are part of the reproductive system.

Each month, one of the ovaries produces an egg. The ovaries also produce the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These help to control the reproductive system.

As you get older, the ovaries make less of these hormones. They eventually stop releasing eggs each month and periods stop. This is called the menopause. It usually happens naturally between the ages of 45 and 55. It means you cannot get pregnant anymore.

The fallopian tubes

The fallopian tubes are 2 fine tubes that link the ovaries to either side of the womb. The egg released by an ovary travels down the fallopian tube to the womb. If the egg is not fertilised by a sperm, it passes out of the womb as part of the monthly period.

Ovarian cancer can affect anyone who has ovaries and fallopian tubes. This includes women, transgender (trans) men and people assigned female at birth.

Organs close to the ovaries and fallopian tubes

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

  • the womb
  • lymph nodes in the pelvis
  • the bladder
  • the ureters – tubes that drain pee (urine) from the kidneys to the bladder
  • the back passage (rectum)
  • part of the bowel.

The peritoneum

A layer of tissue supports the ovaries and fallopian tubes. This tissue is called the peritoneum.

The inner layer of the peritoneum covers the surface of all the organs in the tummy (abdomen), such as the stomach, liver and bowel. The outer layer lines the wall of the abdomen. Between the 2 layers is a small amount of fluid. This lets the layers move easily against each other.

The peritoneum helps protect the organs in the abdomen and keep them in place. A section of the inner layer forms an extra flap of tissue that hangs down from the stomach, in front of the bowel. This flap is called the omentum.

 

The ovaries and surrounding structures
Image: The ovaries and surrounding structures

 

Ovarian cancer and the lymphatic system

The lymphatic system helps protect us from infection and disease. It is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels. These vessels connect to groups of small lymph nodes throughout the body. The lymphatic system drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood.

Lymph nodes are sometimes called lymph glands. They filter bacteria (germs) and disease from the lymph fluid. When you have an infection, some lymph nodes may swell as they fight the infection.

Sometimes cancer can spread through the lymphatic system. Cancer that starts in the ovaries, fallopian tubes or peritoneum is most likely to spread to the lymph nodes in the pelvis or tummy.

 

Lymph nodes in the abdomen and pelvis
Image: Lymph nodes in the abdomen and pelvis

 

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our ovarian cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Ledermann, Raja, Fotopoulou et al. Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2013; Volume 24, Supplement 6. Updated online 2020. Available from www.esmo.org/guidelines (accessed July 2021)

    Management of epithelial ovarian cancer. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN). Nov 2013 revised 2018. Available from www.sign.ac.uk

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.