Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic pain, feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms. Learn more about ovarian cancer and its symptoms below.

Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer does have symptoms, but they are often very subtle and easily mistaken for other, more common problems.  In some rare cases, early stage ovarian cancers may produce symptoms, but in the majority of cases, these don’t show up until the cancer has advanced (when the growth of the tumor triggers symptoms). Several studies show that ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

While knowing the symptoms is important, as it may hasten a diagnosis, research has shown that symptom recognition alone is not useful in detecting ovarian cancer early, and that earlier symptom recognition may not alter the course of the disease or outcome. More research is needed to find better ways to identify ovarian cancer, and to treat it more successfully.

signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can include bloating, difficulty eating, pelvic/abdominal pain, and urinary frequency

Those with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer.  See your doctor, preferably a gynecologist, if you have these symptoms for more than two weeks, and the symptoms are new or unusual for you. Research shows that seeing a gynecologic oncologist for surgery and treatment significantly improves outcomes.

Subscribe to OCRA’s email list for the latest updates about ovarian cancer.

mother and daughter portrait

Ovarian Cancer Prevention

For those at known high risk for ovarian cancer, and even those at average risk, there are options. Learn more about risk reduction and preventative actions.

Less Common Symptoms Associated with Ovarian Cancer

Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by those with ovarian cancer. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.

  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Menstrual irregularities

Do ovarian cancer symptoms come on suddenly?

While ovarian cancer can produce symptoms like bloating, feelings of fullness, pelvic or abdominal pain, urinary symptoms or other less common symptoms, there are not always noticeable symptoms in early stages—and as mentioned, symptoms that are present often mimic other common problems. That’s why in addition to knowing the symptoms, it’s very important to know the risk factors for ovarian cancer, including personal risk determined by family history and genetic predisposition. If you are experiencing symptoms that are new and unusual for you, and that persist for two weeks, see your doctor.

Ovarian Cancer Detection & Diagnosis

Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer

No reliable screening or early detection tests exist for ovarian cancer. The Pap test does not test for ovarian cancer; it screens for cervical cancer.

If a woman has the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, her doctor will probably perform a complete pelvic exam, a transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound, radiological tests, such as a transvaginal ultrasound or CT scan, and a CA-125 blood test. Used individually, these tests are not definitive; they are most effective when used in combination with each other.  If there is a strong family history or a genetic predisposition such as a BRCA mutation, doctors may use some of these tests to monitor. Learn more about how ovarian cancer is diagnosed.