Ovarian cancer can be classified into four “stages”, depending on the extent of spread of the disease. The “staging” requires an operation to obtain tissue samples, which are then examined under a microscope.

  • Stage I: cancer is limited to the ovaries only
  • Stage II: one or both ovaries are affected, as well as other pelvic tissues.
  • Stage III: involves one or both ovaries; the cancer is in the abdominal cavity outside of the pelvis, or there is cancer in the lymph nodes in the pelvis, or around the aorta or in the groin.
  • Stage IV: involves one or both ovaries with spread to distant organs such as the liver or lung.

Current Diagnosis Methods

There is no screening test available for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is usually detected by a combination of several tests and examinations. The final diagnosis always requires the pathological analysis of a tissue sample.

Physical examination: A general check up, including an internal pelvic examination.

Blood tests: A full blood count may be done and a measure of the blood protein CA 125, which is often raised in women with ovarian cancer. Other special ‘tumour markers’ may also be tested for, but some tumours will not have elevations of these markers and the type of marker depends on the type of tumour.

Imaging tests: Ovarian cancer is usually identified by ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen and pelvis. However, imaging cannot give a definitive diagnosis. A CT scan may see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, but this cannot definitely diagnose ovarian cancer either.

Biopsy: A tissue biopsy is required to diagnose ovarian cancer. This is either done image guided (by ultrasound or CT) or by surgery. The sample is sent to a pathology laboratory where it is analyzed under the microscope.


A gynaecological oncologist (a gynaecologist specialized in treating cancers affecting the female reproductive organs) will discuss the best treatment options with patients on a case by case basis. However, the most common treatment methods include one or more of the following:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy

Clinical Trials

Cancer clinical trials are carefully designed research studies that investigate a new test or treatment for cancer in people. Trials may look at whether a treatment is safe, its side effects or how well a treatment or procedure works. Some trials look at how well treatments control symptoms or whether they improve quality of life.

To review the range of clinical trials currently being carried out, visit the Australian Cancer Trials website, the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry website or the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group (ANZGOG) website.