Autophagy contributes to cell survival and is up-regulated under hypoxia in many different cancers. Ovarian cancer has a poor prognosis and is generally resistant to chemotherapy. Through genetic profiling, it has becoming evident that ovarian cancer has distinct subtypes but the significance of these subtypes in ovarian cancer remains unclear. In this issue, Dr Lum and colleagues have presented evidence that autophagy as measured by LC3A staining occurs in a clear cell ovarian cancer that is correlated with hypoxic regions and poor overall survival. In addition, autophagy under hypoxia appears to be higher in clear cell ovarian cancer cells compared to other subtypes. This indicates that autophagy could be a factor in drug resistance and poor survival in clear cell ovarian cancer patients. This insight could lead to a better understanding of the role of autophagy under hypoxia in human ovarian cancer and could be a valuable biomarker for the development of better therapies for clear cell ovarian cancers. Copyright © 2012 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.