Borderline ovarian tumours

Borderline ovarian tumours are abnormal cells that form in the tissue covering the ovary.

They are rare and are not cancer.

There are 2 types of borderline tumours. They are called serous or mucinous.

  • Serous means that the tumour is covered in serum.
  • Mucinous means that it is covered in mucus.

Serous tumours are more common.

Borderline ovarian tumours usually affect women aged between 20 and 40 who have not gone through the menopause.

In 8 out of 10 women these tumours are diagnosed at an early stage when only one ovary is affected.

However, even advanced stage borderline tumours are treated successfully.

Symptoms of a borderline tumour

You may not have any symptoms, especially if the borderline tumour is small.  It might be noticed if you have a scan or investigation for something else.

If you have a larger or more advanced tumour you may notice some of these symptoms:

  • pain or pressure in your tummy
  • a change when you open your bowels to have a poo
  • a swollen tummy
  • bleeding which is not related to your period
  • needing to pee more than usual

Surgery for a borderline tumour

The only treatment is surgery to completely remove the tumour. This surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic.

Your doctor will talk to you about the different types of surgery you can have. It will depend on:

  • the location and size of the tumour
  • whether the tumour has spread
  • your plans for having children

If you have an early-stage tumour and wish to preserve your fertility so that you can have children, surgery to remove as little tissue as possible is an option.

Types of surgery include:

  • Remove one ovary and one fallopian tube (unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). This is known as fertility sparing or fertility conserving surgery.
  • Remove both ovaries and both fallopian tubes (bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy).
  • Total hysterectomy (removing the womb and cervix) and removing both ovaries and tubes.
  • Remove the omentum (the fat ‘apron’ in the abdomen – Omentectomy)
  • Remove the appendix (appendectomy) if you have a mucinous type of borderline tumour

During the surgery, your doctor may take small sample of tissue (biopsy) from different areas including the lymph glands to check if the tumour cells have spread to these areas.

You can read more about having an anaesthetic.

You will stay in hospital overnight and possibly up to 5 days depending on the type of surgery you have.   

Frozen section

We may also offer you a frozen section at the time of your surgery. This is where biopsies of the tumour are taken and analysed while you are asleep under the anaesthetic. The biopsies are immediately sent to the laboratory to see if there is evidence of any borderline or cancer changes. The results are returned to the surgeon while you are still asleep. 

The results of the biopsies will tell us if:

  • there is no cancer (benign). This means that we do not need to do any more surgery.
  • there is borderline ovarian tumour(s) or cancer. This means that we will continue with the surgery we have agreed.

Having children in the future

If the borderline ovarian tumour is only within one ovary, and you want to have children, your surgeon will discuss fertility-conserving surgery. This may involve only removing the affected ovary and fallopian tube. We would leave the other ovary, fallopian tube and womb.

It may be recommended for you to have the other ovary removed with a hysterectomy later after completing your family.

The loss of fertility and not being able to have children can have a range of emotions. You will be able to talk about your options with your consultant and clinical nurse specialist.

We want to involve you in decisions about your care and treatment. If you decide to have the procedure or treatment, we will ask you to sign a consent form. This says that you understand what is involved and agree to have the treatment.

Read more about our consent process.

Resource number: 4522/VER2
Date published: April 2024
Review date: April 2027


Contact us

For follow-up appointments, or to change an existing appointment, contact the consultant's secretaries. Phone: 020 7188 2695 or 020 7188 3685.

For other enquiries contact the gynae-oncology clinical nurse specialists (CNS). Phone: 020 7188 2707

If you have enquiries after your recent surgery contact the gynaecology ward. Phone: 020 7188 2697

If you are worried and unable to contact us, contact your GP or 111. In an emergency go to your local emergency department (A&E) or phone 999.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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