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The ovaries

The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system, which also includes the fallopian tubes, uterus (womb), cervix (the neck of the uterus), vagina (birth canal) and vulva (external genitals).

The ovaries are two small, walnut-shaped organs. They are found in the lower part of the abdomen (belly). There is one ovary on each side of the uterus, close to the end of the fallopian tubes.

Each ovary is made up of:

  • epithelial cells – found on the outside of the ovary in a layer known as the epithelium
  • germ (germinal) cells – found inside the ovaries; eventually mature into eggs (ova)
  • stromal cells – form connective (supporting) tissue within the ovaries, and make the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

Menstruation – Each month, from puberty to menopause, the ovaries release an egg (ovum). This is known as ovulation. The egg travels from the fallopian tube to the uterus. If the egg is fertilised by a sperm, it attaches to the lining of the uterus and grows into a baby. If the egg is not fertilised, the lining of the uterus is shed and flows out of the body through the vagina. This flow is known as a period or menstruation.

Menopause – The hormones oestrogen and progesterone control ovulation and menstruation. As you get older, the ovaries gradually make less of these  hormones. When the levels of oestrogen and progesterone fall low enough, periods finally stop. This is known as menopause. After menopause, you can’t have a child naturally.

The female reproductive system

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Organs near the ovaries

Near the ovaries are many organs and other structures, including the:

  • bladder – stores urine or wee
  • small bowel – involved in digestion
  • rectum – stores faeces or poo
  • peritoneum – the lining of the abdomen
  • omentum – the sheet of fatty tissue that hangs in front of the large bowel like an apron.

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed April 2022 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Nisha Jagasia, Gynaecological Oncologist, Mater Hospital Brisbane, QLD; Sue Hayes, Consumer; Bronwyn Jennings, Gynaecology Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Mater Health, QLD; Dr Andrew Lee, Radiation Oncologist, Canberra Region Cancer Centre and Canberra Hospital, ACT; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Caitriona Nienaber, Cancer Council WA; Jane Power, Consumer; A/Prof Sam Saidi, Senior Staff Specialist, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW.