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 blood test (ca-125) and transvaginal ultrasound. If both tests are negative your doctor might repeat the blood test 4-12 weeks later.**
A cervical smear does not test for ovarian cancer.
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.

Risk Factors:

Family History:
HNPCC (Lynch Syndrome) and the BRCA1/2 mutations 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.

Low grade serous ovarian cancer affects younger women and because it grows slowly symptoms can be subtle which makes it easy for doctors and women to ignore. Even if it is detected early treatment is not always successful which is why supporting low grade serous ovarian cancer research is so important.

For more information:

We need your help to fund research to help women like us live longer
* 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.