A GP using his hands to talk through a Target Ovarian Cancer leaflet on his desk

A to Z of ovarian cancer

Use our ovarian cancer glossary to get to grips with medical terminology and jargon.

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | #



The area of your body from your chest down to your pelvis. Abdominal pain refers to pain in any of this area. We sometimes refer to it as stomach or tummy pain. More about the symptoms ovarian cancer

Abdominal fluid aspiration

This is the term that may be used for the drainage of ascites. A needle is inserted into the abdomen (stomach) and the fluid is withdrawn. A tube may be left in place and attached to a bag to allow more fluid to drain if needed (PleurX catheter system). A sample is then usually sent to the laboratory for testing.

Abdominal scan

This is performed using ultrasound. Sound waves create a picture of the tissues and organs inside the body. The radiographer will move a probe over the abdomen (stomach) using a special jelly so the probe moves easily over the skin. You may need an internal scan to be able to see the ovaries more clearly – see also transvaginal ultrasound.

Adjuvant chemotherapy

This is chemotherapy that is given following surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer reoccurring.

Alternative therapies

The phrases complementary therapy and alternative therapy are often used as if they mean the same thing. However, alternative therapies are frequently used INSTEAD of conventional treatment. Most have not been through rigorous trials so they may not be completely safe and could cause harm. See also complementary therapies


A decrease in the total amount of red blood cells and therefore haemoglobin in the blood. This results in a reduced ability to carry oxygen leading to tiredness and sometimes breathlessness, particularly on exertion. This may occur as a result of surgery or chemotherapy.


When cells in a tumour have very poor differentiation, they divide rapidly and have no resemblance to normal cells. 


A build-up of fluid between the two layers of the peritoneum (a membrane inside the abdomen). It can cause abdominal swelling, shortness of breath, indigestion, feeling or being sick, reduced appetite and extreme tiredness (lethargy).

Avastin® (bevacizumab)

Bevacizumab (also known by brand name Avastin®) is a targeted therapy. It targets a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that helps cancer cells develop a new blood supply. It's given through a drip in combination with chemotherapy and as a maintenance drug after the chemotherapy course is completed. Maintenance drugs seek to ensure the benefits received from the chemotherapy are continued after the chemotherapy course is completed. It's not suitable for treating all types of ovarian cancer.


Benign tumours

Tumours that are not cancerous.


Bevacizumab (also known by brand name Avastin®) is a targeted therapy. It targets a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that helps cancer cells develop a new blood supply. It's given through a drip in combination with chemotherapy and as a maintenance drug after the chemotherapy course is completed. Maintenance drugs seek to ensure the benefits received from the chemotherapy are continued after the chemotherapy course is completed. It's not suitable for treating all types of ovarian cancer.

Bilateral mastectomy 

The surgical removal of both breasts – see also mastectomy.

Bilateral salpingo-oophrectomy (BSO)

This is the surgery carried out to remove both sets of ovaries and the fallopian tubes. See also unilateral salpingo-oophrectomy

Biological therapies

Targeted therapies, sometimes known as biological therapies, are drugs that encourage the body to attack the cancer itself through strengthening the immune system or interfering with the cancer cells' growth.


A thin needle is inserted into the abdomen and a small tissue sample collected.

Blood cells

Different types of blood cell have different functions within the body. The blood is made up of red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. A blood test called a full blood count (FBC) assesses the levels of these in your blood stream.

  • Red blood cells: there are millions of these cells circulating in the blood stream – they are used to carry oxygen and iron to the organs and tissues.
  • White blood cells: these are present in the blood stream to help fight against infections such as bacteria and viruses.
  • Platelets: these are tiny cells that are part of the clotting process in the body. Platelets move to the site of an injury to repair the damage with a plug or clot. As their name suggests they look like small plates.
  • Plasma: a straw-coloured fluid component of the blood that supports the blood cells. It makes up about 55 per cent of the blood.
  • Neutrophils: type of white blood cell and usually the first line of defence in the presence of an infection. Neutrophils often drop/fall following chemotherapy, meaning patients are more susceptible to infection. The specialist nurse will give you advice on how to manage this.

Blood transfusion

A transfusion may be given during or after your surgery to replace any blood loss. This will be discussed with you by the surgeon when you sign the consent form. You may also need a blood transfusion if you have chemotherapy as treatment can reduce the number of red blood cells. A blood transfusion will reduce the symptoms of anemia. More about blood transfusions

Borderline tumours

Slow growing tumours that have not begun to spread or damage the tissue around them. They behave much less aggressively than ovarian cancer.


The BRCA (BReast CAncer) genes were first discovered in families who had many cases of breast or ovarian cancer. If you have a mutation, sometimes referred to as a fault, in one of your BRCA genes it means your cells are not quite as good at finding and repairing mistakes in other genes. Your cells are a more likely to develop another mutation. About 10–15 per cent of women who develop ovarian cancer have a mutation in either their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. More about hereditary ovarian cancer

Brenner tumour

Brenner tumour is a type of epithelial ovarian cancer. They are rare, accounting for one to two per cent of ovarian tumours.


CA125 blood test

A blood test that checks the level of CA125 (a protein) in your blood. Your doctor should recommend this test if you're having symptoms of ovarian cancer more than 12 times a month. Not all women with ovarian cancer have a raised CA125 blood test. CA125 is the marker currently used for monitoring women after treatment for ovarian cancer.

Caelyx® (also known as PLDH – pegylated liposomal doxorubicin hydrochloride, or just liposomal doxorubicin)

A chemotherapy drug used to treat recurrent ovarian cancer.

Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF)

Within England only, certain cancer drugs that are not approved for routine use on the NHS by NICE can be accessed via a special fund called the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), designed to improve access to cancer drugs.


The build-up of calcium salts in body tissue.


A widely used chemotherapy drug used to treat ovarian cancer.

Cervical screening test (also known as a smear test)

This is a test available to all women in the UK between the ages of 25–64. It's carried out every three years to detect any abnormal cells on the cervix and recognise any early signs of cervical cancer. It is not a test for ovarian cancer.


A treatment regime that treats serious diseases such as cancer. It works by destroying rapidly growing cancer cells in the body. Find out about chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of ovarian cancer

Chemotherapy nurse

Specialist nurses who have undergone training to enable them to care for and support patients receiving chemotherapy. They also administer the treatment. Depending on your treatment plan, your chemotherapy nurse is part of the multidisciplinary team that will help you through your chemotherapy treatment and any side effects you may experience.


A chemotherapy drug sometimes used to treat ovarian cancer.

Clear cell ovarian cancer

Clear cell ovarian cancer is a rare subtype of epithelial ovarian cancer accounting for four per cent of ovarian tumours.

Clinical Advisory Panel

Target Ovarian Cancer’s voluntary panel of leading ovarian cancer experts who assist our nurse adviser with queries to our Support Line. The panel is made up of GPs, clinical nurse specialists, geneticists, psychologists, researchers, oncologists and surgeons.

Clinical nurse specialist (CNS) 

See gynaecological oncology clinical nurse specialist

Clinical trials

Research that compares one treatment with another. A clinical trial may be referred to as:

  • Phase I – this is the first time a drug has been tested on people. The aim of a phase I trial is to test the drug’s safety, identify the correct dose and assess for any side effects
  • Phase II – the drug is given to a larger group of people to further assess the safety and side effects of the new treatment
  • Phase III – the drug is given to larger groups and compared with existing treatments to further understand the effectiveness and side effects.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

CBT examines how our ways of thinking can trigger difficult emotions and behaviours. The therapy then works to change behaviour by finding new ways to think about and approach problems. This is a practical therapeutic approach. The more specific a problem the more likely CBT will be able to help. The CBT Register UK allows you to search for therapists in your local area. Most clinical psychologists in the UK are trained in CBT and you can be referred to one through your GP.

Cold cap

A cold cap is a gel-filled cap used to reduce the risk of hair loss from chemotherapy. It is placed on the head shortly before the chemotherapy is given and remains in place for a while after the treatment has finished. The system works by cooling the scalp, thus reducing the amount of chemotherapy drugs that reach the hair follicles. There are also refrigerated cooling systems in use in some hospitals that work in the same way – liquid coolant is pumped round the hat while in situ on the head. This is sometimes referred to as scalp cooling.


See stoma

Complementary therapies

There are many different complementary therapies, such as massage, acupuncture and reflexology, which can be help you to relax and let go of the tension. They are carried out by trained practitioners alongside conventional medical treatments. You should be able to access free complementary therapies at your local hospice or cancer support centre. It's important to discuss with your doctor any complementary therapy you are thinking of using.

Consent form

This form is signed by the patient and surgeon/oncologist prior to any surgical procedure/chemotherapy. It is confirmation the patient fully understands the procedure and any risks involved. It provides an opportunity for the patient to ask the doctors any questions.

CT scan

A computerised tomography scan uses a series of X-rays to put together a picture of the organs and tissues inside the body. The scan is painless but you may sometimes need an injection into a vein of a dye (contrast) to help make the images clearer for the doctor to interpret.


Surgery to remove part of a malignant tumour. For many women with ovarian cancer, surgery normally includes removing the womb and cervix, both ovaries and fallopian tubes (called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy), and the omentum (a sheet of fat that hangs in front of the abdomen). It may also involve removing enlarged lymph nodes, parts of bowels (bowel resection), the spleen and parts of other organs that may be affected. This is sometimes called extensive or ultra-radical debulking surgery.



See cytoreduction

Desensitisation regime

Occasionally women develop a sensitivity or allergy to a chemotherapy drug they have been prescribed. The doctor may suggest a desensitisation treatment to enable the treatment to continue where the chemotherapy is restarted at a very low dose and gradually increased. This should be discussed with the medical team.


Describes how much or how little cancer cells looks like the normal tissue it came from. Well-differentiated cancer cells look more like normal cells and tend to grow and spread more slowly than poorly differentiated or undifferentiated cancer cells. This is how cancer is graded. See grading


Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the hereditary material in human cells.


Endocrine therapy

Endocrine therapy (also called hormone therapy) is a form of treatment often taken as a tablet. It works by adding, blocking or removing hormones from the body to slow or stop the growth of cancer cells. Several factors influence the type of hormone therapy you may receive, including your age, the type and size of the tumour, and the presence of hormone receptors on the tumour. You may be prescribed hormone therapy on its own or in combination with chemotherapy.


A type of epithelial ovarian cancer that is more likely to be associated with disease in the womb (endometrium) and can sometimes be found when a woman is diagnosed with endometrial cancer.


A benign condition where the endometrial cells lining the uterus migrate to other parts of the body. It's a chronic condition that can cause infertility, pelvic pain, painful or heavy periods. It rarely grows into cancer.

Epithelial ovarian cancer

The most common type of ovarian cancer, which arises from the cells that line or cover the ovaries (the epithelium).


Fallopian tube

The fallopian tubes, also known as the uterine tubes, are a pair of tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus. Following ovulation, ova (egg cells) are carried to the uterus through the fallopian tube. According to our current knowledge, ovarian cancer may in fact arise from the fallopian tubes and not the ovaries.


Extreme tiredness associated with cancer and its treatments.


Non-cancerous (benign) tumours that typically develop on the wall and lining of the uterus (womb).


Stands for International Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians. The federation created the staging system, which looks at how ovarian cancer has spread.



A chemotherapy drug sometimes used to treat ovarian cancer.


Genes are made from DNA and act as a set of instructions or a blueprint, telling the cells of our bodies how to behave. For example, genes determine whether a cell will be a muscle cell, bone cell or blood cell. Each person has two copies of each of their genes. One copy comes from their mother (egg) and one from their father (sperm). Faults (mutations) in genes can lead to development of cancer.

Genetic testing

Usually involves having a sample of your blood or tissue taken. The sample will comprise cells containing your DNA. This will be tested to see if you carry a genetic mutation that puts you at greater risk of developing a condition, in this case ovarian cancer, or passing on this mutation to your children. More about genetic testing

Germ-cell tumours

The cancer arises in the cells that form eggs within the ovaries. These tumours most commonly develop in younger, premenopausal women.


GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate. This test is carried out to assess how well your kidneys are working. The test estimates the volume of blood that is filtered by your kidneys over a given period of time. This test is used to calculate your dosage for certain types of chemotherapy, notably carboplatin. The test takes place in the nuclear medicine department, often as an outpatient. The hospital will give you specific details about the test and what to expect on the day.


The grade of a cancer gives you an idea of how quickly it might grow. The grading is based on what the cancer cells look like under a microscope compared with normal cells.

Gynaecological oncology

The study of cancers of the female reproductive system, such as ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, vaginal cancer and vulval cancer.

Gynaecological oncology clinical nurse specialist (CNS)

A senior nurse who has had special training to look after women with gynaecological cancers, such as ovarian cancer. In some areas the specialist nurse may be called a Macmillan nurse. Your clinical team will tell you who is available to support you through each stage of your diagnosis and treatment.



Passing conditions from parent to offspring through the genes.


Work is currently ongoing to establish if HE4 might be a reliable marker to aid early diagnosis and monitoring of ovarian cancer. CA125 is the marker currently used for monitoring women after treatment for ovarian cancer.

High-grade tumours

These tumours have a tendency to grow and spread more quickly than low-grade tumours. They are sometimes described as 'poorly differentiated' or grade III.

High-grade serous ovarian cancer

High-grade serous ovarian cancer (sometimes known as high-grade serous carcinoma) is the most common form of epithelial ovarian cancer, accounting for over six of every ten cases of epithelial cancer.


Lynch-syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC) is a type of bowel cancer predisposition, which is linked to mutations in one of the genes MSH2, MLH1, MSH6 and PMS2. A woman with a mutation in one of these genes has an estimated nine to 12 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer at some point during her lifetime. The chance of developing cancer of the stomach, liver, kidney, bladder, skin and brain can also be increased by a mutation in one of the Lynch-syndrome genes.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

A treatment used to relieve symptoms of menopause. It replaces the female hormones no longer produced after menopause.

Hormone receptor status

Some ovarian cancers have the hormone receptors for oestrogen and/or progesterone on the surface of the cells. Any tissue removed surgically is analysed in the laboratory to assess this as it affects treatment options. The cancer may be described as ER or PR positive.

Hormone therapy

Hormone therapy, using drugs such as tamoxifen and letrozole, is best known as a treatment for breast cancer. However, it appears it can also be useful in treating some types of recurrent ovarian cancer, especially in women whose disease is growing very slowly and in women who do not wish to receive more chemotherapy. However, there have not been any large-scale clinical trials to see how hormone therapy might compare to standard treatments in ovarian cancer, and who might benefit most from such an approach. See also endocrine therapy


Surgery for ovarian cancer includes a hysterectomy – the removal of the womb. This may be referred to as a TAH – total abdominal hysterectomy.


A hysteroscopy is an internal examination of your womb and it is carried out either in the outpatient department or in theatre as a day case procedure. A small fine telescope called a hysteroscope is inserted through the vagina and cervix into the womb. This examination is used to help understand the cause of heavy or persistent bleeding. It's not a test for ovarian cancer.



See stoma

Interval debulking surgery (IDS)

Surgery to remove as much of a remaining tumour as possible, following chemotherapy treatment. You may also need chemotherapy after the operation.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

A common, long-term benign (non-cancerous) condition of the digestive system. It can cause bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and/or constipation. Ovarian cancer is sometimes misdiagnosed as IBS as they can both display similar symptoms.



See stoma

Jejunal feeding

This procedure may be needed if you have a bowel obstruction in the small bowel. A tube is inserted through the tummy directly into the small bowel, lower than the site of obstruction so nutritious liquids or medicines can go through the tube and be absorbed.



Keyhole surgery to investigate the abdominal cavity during which a tiny camera with small instruments is inserted into the tummy.


An incision made in the abdomen. Surgery may start off as keyhole surgery (a laparoscopy) and need to proceed to a laparotomy. For ovarian cancer, the incision is usually midline (up and down) although in some cases may be horizontal.


See hormone therapy

Low-grade tumours

The cells look very similar to normal cells, and are not as likely as high-grade tumours to spread. Often described as 'well differentiated' or grade I.

Low-grade serous ovarian cancer

Low-grade serous ovarian cancer (or low-grade serous carcinoma) is relatively rare accounting for one in every ten cases of epithelial ovarian cancer. These tumours are slow growing and usually detected in younger women.

Lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are found all over the body, connected by a network of lymphatic vessels. They are part of the lymphatic system – one of the body's natural defences against infection.


This is an excess of fluid in body tissues caused by poor lymph node drainage. In ovarian cancer, this fluid is most likely to collect in your legs or possibly your pelvic area.

Lynch syndrome or HNPCC

Those carrying the HNPCC gene mutation have higher risk of developing bowel, ovarian, endometrial, stomach, liver, kidney and bladder or brain cancers.

Lynparza® (also known as olaparib)

A biological therapy known as a PARP inhibitor that has been shown to be effective in women with ovarian cancer who have a mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. It targets the DNA of the tumour so it can't repair itself. It's given as a maintenance drug following platinum-containing chemotherapy.


Malignant tumours

Cancerous tumours made up of cells that grow out of control. Cells in these tumours can spread to other parts of the body.


Operation to remove the breast. Sometimes used as a treatment for breast cancer. This may also be offered as risk-reducing surgery (bilateral mastectomy) for women who have a mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.


The menopause is the end of menstruation (monthly periods). It occurs when a woman's ovaries stop producing an egg each month.

Metastases/metastatic cancer

Sometimes cells move away from the original (primary) cancer site and spread to other organs and bones through the bloodstream where they can continue to grow and form another tumour at that site. This is known as metastatic or secondary cancer. Metastases keep the name of the original cancer location, so ovarian cancer that has spread to the liver is still called ovarian cancer.


Mindfulness is a form of non-religious meditation that can have benefits for your sense of wellbeing, help with stress and anxiety and can be practised at home. It is taught and practised in the UK by applied psychologists and other registered health professionals.

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are sometimes called targeted therapies. They work by targeting specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells.

MRI scan

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a way of creating detailed images of your internal organs and blood vessels. MRI is not available at all hospitals in the UK so you may be referred to your nearest centre. This type of scan uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a picture of some parts of your body. It's not generally used by gynaecologists for the assessment of the peritoneal cavity as the pictures are not as reliable as other types of scans (such as CT scans.)


A rare subtype of epithelial ovarian cancer.

Multidisciplinary team (MDT)

This team includes all the people caring for you. The MDT will meet up regularly to discuss your care and treatment, review test results and recommend treatment plans.


A gene mutation is any change or fault that occurs in the DNA of a cell. It can be inherited from a parent (hereditary, or germline mutation), or be acquired in a person's lifetime (new mutation).


Nasogastric tube (NG tube)

A nasogastric tube (or NG tube as it is often called) is a plastic tube inserted via a nostril into the stomach. It's used for delivery of a nutritional feed directly into the stomach or it may be used to rest the stomach after major surgery by removing the stomach contents.


Sometimes chemotherapy is given before surgery to help shrink the cancer and make an individual fitter for surgery; this is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy. It is also referred to as primary chemotherapy.


Another word for an abnormal mass of tissue. Also known as a tumour.


See peripheral neuropathy


This occurs when the bone marrow fails to make enough neutrophils. It can be a side effect of chemotherapy and means you are more at risk of getting an infection. Your specialist chemotherapy nurse will give you more information about the signs and symptoms, and who to contact if you are concerned.


Stands for National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. NICE guidance sets the standards for high quality healthcare, and encourages healthy living.


Off license/off-label treatment

Sometimes oncologists prescribe drugs to treat women with ovarian cancer outside the clinical trial setting, which are not yet licensed for ovarian cancer, if they believe a patient may benefit. This is referred to as prescribing 'off license' or 'off-label'.

Olaparib (also known by brand name Lynparza®)

A biological therapy known as a PARP inhibitor, which has shown to be effective in women with ovarian cancer who have a mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. It targets the DNA of the tumour so it can't repair itself. It's given as a maintenance drug following platinum-containing chemotherapy.


A sheet of fat that hangs in front of the abdomen, often removed during surgery for ovarian cancer.


A doctor who specialises in cancer. There are different types of oncologist. You may meet a gynaecological oncology surgeon, a medical oncologist who specialises in chemotherapy treatments or a clinical oncologist who specialises in radiotherapy and chemotherapy.


The study of cancer.


Surgery to remove a woman's ovaries.


The ovaries are a pair of small organs in the female reproductive system, containing eggs. They release an egg once a month until the menopause takes place.


Paclitaxol (Taxol®) 

A chemotherapy drug usually used in combination with carboplatin for first line chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.

Palliative care

Palliative care is the holistic and total care of someone who is living with a life-limiting condition or approaching the end of their life. It aims to maintain and improve the quality of their life and offers support to the individual, their family and carers during the course of the illness.


A procedure to remove fluid (peritoneal fluid) that has collected in the abdomen. This fluid build-up is called ascites and can be caused by cancer.

PARP inhibitors

A new class of drugs currently being tested. Early clinical trials have shown that women with mutations in their BRCA 1 or 2 genes may respond well to PARP inhibitors. There are also some early indications that PARP inhibitors may benefit women who are not BRCA positive.

Partially platinum sensitive

Sometimes the term 'partially platinum sensitive' is used, and refers to when recurrence occurs between six and twelve months after the last treatment.

Peer review

Peer review is the evaluation of new scientific discoveries by experts in the field.

Pelvic pain

Abdominal or tummy pain may be one of the early symptoms of ovarian cancer or an indication of disease recurrence. Many other benign and malignant conditions can cause pelvic pain.

Pelvic scan

Also called a transvaginal ultrasound, this test is used to create a picture of your reproductive organs including your uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes and cervix.

Peripheral neuropathy

This develops when nerves in the hands or feed are damaged. There are a number of causes but it can be a side effect of some chemotherapy treatments such as paclitaxel used in the treatment of ovarian cancer. These symptoms are usually constant, but may come and go.

The main symptoms of peripheral neuropathy can include:

  • numbness and tingling in the feet or hands
  • burning, stabbing or shooting pain in affected areas
  • loss of balance and coordination
  • muscle weakness, especially in the feet.

If you experience these symptoms it's important that you tell your doctor or CNS as they may want to adjust your treatment.

Peritoneal cavity

This is the space within the abdomen that contains the intestines, the stomach, and the liver. It is bound by a thin lining – the peritoneum. In females this area also includes the reproductive organs, the womb, the ovaries and the vagina.


The thin flexible sheet of transparent tissue that covers the organs inside your abdomen.

PET scan, PET CT

A positron emission tomography (PET) scan is an imaging test that allows your doctor to check for diseases in your body. The scan uses a special radioactive dye injected into a vein in your arm, which enables the radiologist to see the internal organs more clearly. They may also occasionally be combined with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. This is known as a PET-MRI scan.

Platinum sensitive

Oncologists divide recurrent ovarian cancer into two groups, 'platinum sensitive' and 'platinum resistant', depending on how long it has been since you finished your last platinum based chemotherapy containing either carboplatin or cisplatin. If it has been six months or more since your last treatment with carboplatin or cisplatin, your cancer is platinum sensitive – this means there's a greater chance it will respond to more platinum.

Platinum resistant

If your cancer has returned within six months of your last treatment with platinum (either carboplatin or cisplatin), your cancer is called 'platinum resistant'. In these circumstances it's unlikely it will respond to platinum chemotherapy again, and different drugs are used.


See caelyx

PleurX® catheter system

A safe, simple and effective longer term alternative for women who want to avoid regular hospital visits and manage their ascites at home.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

A benign hormonal disease affecting millions of women worldwide. At this stage there's no strong evidence to suggest having PCOS increases the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Primary chemotherapy

See neo-adjuvant

Primary peritoneal cancer (PPC)

This is similar to epithelial ovarian cancer and is usually treated in the same way. It may arise from the tubes and spreads early in the peritoneum. More about PPC


A medical prediction of the future course of a disease and the chance of recovery.

Prophylactic oophorectomy

Surgery to remove a woman's ovaries to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. It is only advised if a woman has higher than normal risk for ovarian cancer.

Protection factor

A lifestyle choice that may reduce a women's risk of developing ovarian cancer.


Similar to counselling, but the therapist will try to find out where emotions or difficulties might be coming from, and think about how what is happening in your life now and in the past might affect your feelings.


RAD51C and RAD51D genes

Mutations in RAD51C and RAD51D genes can increase a woman's risk of ovarian cancer. However, these mutations are very rare.


Treatment using high-energy radiation. Radiotherapy can be given in two different ways: from outside the body (external radiotherapy) or inside the body (internal radiotherapy). Radiotherapy isn't generally used to treat ovarian cancer.


When cancer comes back after a period of time. It's also called 'relapsed'.


When there is no sign of cancer following treatment. Complete remission means the cancer can't be detected on physical examinations, scans or blood tests. Partial remission means the treatment has killed some of the cells, but not all. The cancer has shrunk, but can still be seen on scans and doesn't appear to be growing. 


See clinical trials

Research champions

People affected by ovarian cancer who help Target Ovarian Cancer to review research grant applications and shape how we invest in research.

Risk factor

A factor such as a habit or an environmental condition, which makes an individual more likely to develop a particular disease.



The surgical removal of the fallopian tube.

Scientific Advisory Board

A panel of experts, which provides advice to Target Ovarian Cancer on ovarian cancer research, such as grant applications.

Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC)

Advises NHS bodies in Scotland about the status of new medicines.


The most common form of epithelial ovarian cancer.

Sex cord stromal tumours

Tumours that arise from the connective cells that hold the ovaries together and produce the female hormones.


The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network develops clinical practice guidelines for the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland.

Single agent

When a course of chemotherapy involves just one drug treatment.

Smear test

See cervical screening test


The stage of cancer tells you how far it has spread. Doctors use an international staging system called FIGO as part of a diagnosis.

STK11 gene

Mutations in the STK11 gene increase the risk of developing ovarian sex cord-stromal tumours, a different type of ovarian cancer. Mutations in this gene cause Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, which is an extremely rare condition estimated to affect one in 100,000 people. Find out more about hereditary ovarian cancer


Sometimes surgery is needed to deal with a blockage in the bowel. If it's not possible to clear the blockage, the body will need a new way for the stool to exit. In this instance the surgeon will make an opening through the abdominal wall (tummy) and onto the skin and bring the end of the intestine (bowel) through it. This called the creation of an ostomy or a stoma (an artificial opening). It's commonly called a colostomy if it involves the large intestine (colon), an ileostomy if it involves the small intestine (ileum) or a jejunostomy if it involves the jejunum (the early part of the small bowel). More about the creation of a stoma

Stoma nurse

A clinical nurse specialist who will give you advice and support if you have to have a stoma. They are is different from the gynae CNS and will be able to help you manage your colostomy/ileostomy/jejunostomy.


A sign or indication of a disorder or disease; a sensation or change in bodily function linked with an illness.



See hormone therapy

Targeted (biological) therapies

Targeted therapies, sometimes known as biological therapies, are drugs that encourage the body to attack the cancer itself through strengthening the immune system or interfering with the cancer cells' growth.

TNM staging system

For ovarian cancer, an international system of staging is used called the FIGO system. Another staging system used is called TNM, which takes into account the size of the tumour (T), whether the cancer has spread to the lymph glands/lymph nodes (N), and whether the tumour has spread anywhere else in the body (M for metastases). 

Transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS)

An internal scan, also known as a pelvic scan, which creates a picture of your internal organs including your ovaries. This can be used to check for unusual lumps or growths.



A type of scan that uses sound waves to create a picture of the tissue and organs inside your body, which appears on a TV screen.

Undifferentiated or unclassified tumours

The cells are very underdeveloped so it's not possible to tell where they have originated. A significant number of epithelial ovarian cancers (up to 1 in 10) are termed unclassified or undifferentiated.

Unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy

Surgery to remove an ovary and fallopian tube. If both sets are removed, it's known as bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.


The uterus, or womb, forms part of a woman's reproductive system. It's where the baby grows and develops during pregnancy.

Uterine tubes

See fallopian tubes


Vaginal dryness

After the menopause, either surgical or a natural menopause, the changes in your oestrogen levels cause changes to your vagina and the tissues surrounding it. The vagina may not be as moist as it previously was and lubrication can be a problem. Lubrication treatments are available on prescription – you can speak to your doctor or CNS for further advice.

VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor)

A protein used in the body to make blood vessels. Some tumours have this protein on the surface of their cells. Anti-VEGF treatments, such as bevacizumab, block this protein and so prevent the tumour from obtaining a supply of nutrients and oxygen so they shrink or stop growing.


24-hour urine collection

This test is done to measure kidney function and is an alternative to a blood test. As its name suggests, urine is collected in a special container for a 24-hour period and then returned to the hospital where it will be tested in the laboratory. You might also need to have a blood test to assess kidney function in the same 24-hour period. If this test is requested the hospital will give you more specific advice as to how to go about it.