The ovaries, fallopian tubes and peritoneum

The ovaries and fallopian tubes

The ovaries are two small, oval-shaped organs in the pelvis. The pelvis is the area between the hips in the lower part of the tummy. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system. This is the system involved in making eggs, having sex, carrying a baby and giving birth. It also includes the fallopian tubes, womb (uterus), cervix and vagina.

The fallopian tubes are two fine tubes that link the ovaries to either side of the womb. Normally, from puberty to menopause, one of the ovaries releases an egg once a month. The egg passes 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.

The ovaries also produce the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones help control the reproductive system. As you get older, the ovaries make less of these hormones. The ovaries stop releasing eggs each month and periods stop. This is known as the menopause. It means you cannot get pregnant anymore. It usually happens naturally between your mid-40s and mid-50s.

The ovaries and fallopian tubes
The ovaries and fallopian tubes

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Organs close to the ovaries and fallopian tubes

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

  • the bladder
  • the ureters – tubes which drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder
  • the back passage (rectum)
  • part of the bowel
  • groups of lymph nodes
  • the womb (uterus).

The peritoneum

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

In men and women, 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 two 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
The ovaries and surrounding structures

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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.

Symptoms of cancer of ovarian cancer

Symptoms of ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cancer are often similar to other conditions. Find out when your GP should offer you cancer tests.

Why do cancers come back?

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