What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Common symptoms include

• Increase in tummy size
• Bloating
•Abdominal/back/pelvic pain
•Needing to pee more often or urgently
•Bowel changes

But any of the symptoms below could be an indication of ovarian cancer if they are frequent, worsening, or unusual and last longer than two weeks.

• Feeling full after eating only a few bites or loss of appetite
• Diarrhoea, constipation, bowel or rectum feels full, change in bowel habits, constant urge to have a bowel movement, painful or burning bowel movements, rectal pain, painful defecation
• Bloating, distension of abdomen, clothes around the waist feel too tight, feel an abdominal mass
• Weight loss not because of dieting
• Nausea, vomiting, heartburn, gas, burping, indigestion
• Increased urinary frequency, need to urinate urgently, pressure on the bladder, leaking urine, burning sensation when urinating, need to urinate but unable to do so, unable to empty bladder completely, feeling full after urinating
• Vaginal discharge, bleeding, spotting, deep pain on intercourse
• Discomfort or pain in abdomen, pelvic region, or lower back

Symptoms can be vague and variable
Common Misdiagnoses: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or constipation, gastritis, stress, depression and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Did you know?

Ovarian cancer is the


Most common cause of cancer deaths in women

8 in 10 women

Have symptoms when their cancer is early

4 in 5

Will be misdiagnosed

1 in 4

Wait over 6 months to get a correct diagnosis

Should you be tested?

There is no screening test (when you don't have symptoms) for ovarian cancer* but if you have symptoms it is easy to test for with a CA-125 blood test and ultrasound.

Before ordering the tests, a doctor may perform a pelvic (internal) exam to feel for abnormalities. During a pelvic exam a doctor will insert two lubricated and gloved fingers inside the vagina and use their other hand to gently press down on the area they are feeling. It should not be painful. A normal pelvic exam does not rule out ovarian cancer.

Pelvic exam depiction

© 2009 Terese Winslow, U.S. Govt. has certain rights.

If both the CA-125 blood test and ultrasound are negative your doctor might repeat the blood test 4-12 weeks later.**
A cervical smear tests for cervical cancer, not ovarian.
It is important to remember most women with symptoms do not have ovarian cancer but if testing does find cancer, early detection will make it easier to treat.

Ovarian cancer is an umbrella term for different cancers that have similar symptoms. The term ovarian cancer encompasses: high-grade serous, low-grade serous, mucinous, endometrioid, clear cell, mixed epithelial, germ cell and stromal and borderline (low-malignant potential) tumours and more.

Risk Factors:

Family History:
The BRCA 1/2 mutations and HNPCC (Lynch Syndrome) are associated with up to a 66% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. Women with a family history of ovarian, breast, pancreatic or colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor. Hereditary ovarian cancer may be preventable.

9 out of 10 women with ovarian cancer have NO family history

Factors that can mildly alter risk:
Reduced risk:
  • Oral contraceptive use
  • Healthy weight
  • Giving birth
Increased risk:
  • Older age (but some types of ovarian cancer are more common in younger women)
  • Endometriosis

Regardless of risk factors, any woman with symptoms could have ovarian cancer.

In general ovarian cancer is more common in older age. But certain types of ovarian cancer are more common in younger women - like low-grade serous carcinoma. Younger age is a risk factor for delayed diagnosis.

Share the symptoms:

Download our symptoms poster.


Cure Our Ovarian Cancer

For more information:

* There is some evidence screening may be of benefit in high risk women if you are known to carry the BRCA mutation. You should speak with your doctor to determine what is appropriate for you.
** as per the Detecting Ovarian Cancer Early (DOvE) study

If your symptoms do not resolve, and your tests are negative for ovarian cancer, speak to your doctor. Other cancers with overlapping symptoms include endometrial cancer, bowel cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer, stomach cancer and bladder cancer.