The ovaries are the female paired reproductive organs which are located in the lesser pelvis, one at each side of the womb (uterus). During the childbearing years, once a month an egg cell is set free from the ovaries (ovulation). Additionally, the ovaries play an important role as producers of the female sex hormones oestrogen and progesterone. With advancing age of life the ovaries decrease in size and function.
However, if ovarian cells degenerate, they can divide uncontrollably and a growth (tumour) develops, which can outgrow the natural boundaries of the organs. Despite intensive research and new insights, the exact causes for this process are still unknown. Since the ovaries consist of different types of cells, there are different histologic tumour types. Approximately 90% of these tumours are so-called epithelial tumours. Malignant tumours of epithelial origin are called carcinomas.
Ovarian cancer (carcinoma of the ovary) is a rare tumour and listed in 6th place of all cancer types that occur in women across Europe. Every year, approx. 8,000 women develop ovarian cancer in Germany, approx. 700 in Austria, approx. 4,500 in France and approx. 550 in Belgium.
Early symptoms of the disease are usually only moderate and still no appropriate methods for prevention and early detection are available. As a consequence ovarian cancer is diagnosed late: at the time of diagnosis approx. 75% of the patients already have an advanced tumour stage, the so-called FIGO stages III and IV.
FIGO (French for “International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics”) is an international cancer association, which continuously develops and publishes the most recent classifications and guidelines for the treatment of all female genital tumours and therefore enables international comparability. For example, a FIGO stage III means that metastases (cancer spread) are already present outside the area of the lesser pelvis, whereas a FIGO stage IV means that there are distant metastases, which means that the tumour has spread into organs such as liver, spleen, lung or brain.