Angelina Jolie has recently spoken about her decision to go ahead with preventative surgery for ovarian cancer. Back in May 2013 we featured a blog after it emerged that she had a preventative double mastectomy (you can read this blog here).

Her decisions were based on the fact that Angelina has a family history of cancer and, like 5–10% of women who are diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer, carries a BRCA gene mutation. Other celebrities, including Michelle Heaton and Sharon Osbourne, have had similar preventative surgeries. 

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so we’d like to share some information that will hopefully help to answer any questions you have on this particular form of cancer.

Risk factors of ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is not exclusive to a specific age group.  It does have a higher risk factor for women over the age of 45. But younger women may also be at risk. Women who have not had children may be at a higher risk than those who have.

Women who have experienced any of the following may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer:

  • two or more close relatives diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer
  • an early first period (under the age of 12)
  • endometriosis (where the lining of the womb grows outside the womb)
  • a late menopause (after the age of 50)
  • use of hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) – particularly for seven years or more.


If you are worried about ovarian cancer in your family, we have an online tool you can use to assess your risk. This tool is called OPERA  (Online Personal Education and Risk Assessment) and focuses specifically on genetic ovarian and breast cancer risk. It only takes a few minutes to complete. We recently published a Macmillan blog about OPERA, you can read it here. Like many cancers, ovarian cancer can be treated more effectively if it is discovered early. The NHS guidance body NICE recommends that you visit your GP if you have any of these symptoms on at least 12 days per month, or if they last for a month or more:

  • bloated feeling (swollen tummy)
  • feeling full quickly after eating and/or loss of appetite
  • pain in lower tummy and/or back
  • needing to pass urine more frequently.

Other symptoms may include:

  • change in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • unexplained weight loss
  • unexplained tiredness.

This video provides a brief overview of the symptoms of ovarian cancer:

In this video Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, Consultant Gynaceological Oncologist, provides a general overview of ovarian cancer symptoms.

Reducing risk

You can reduce your risk of ovarian cancer (and many other forms of cancer) by adopting these tips for a healthy lifestyle:

  • give up smoking
  • reduce the amount of alcohol you drink
  • eat a diet containing lots of fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions per day)
  • keep physically active
  • maintain a healthy body weight.


Further information

For more detailed information, please order a copy of Understanding cancer of the ovary

You can also take a look at our Ovarian cancer webpage or contact our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00 or via email.

To see what else Macmillan's cancer information team has been blogging about, please visit our blog home page! You can subscribe to receive our blogs by email or RSS too.

We're with you every step of the way

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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