Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 12, 2023
2 min read

In its early stages, ovarian cancer may not cause symptoms you would notice. Even as the disease advances, the signs can be unclear. You might confuse them with other common problems, such as constipation.

For many years, ovarian cancer was known as a “silent” disease. If you know the symptoms, you and your doctor will have a better chance of finding it early.

There are four main symptoms of ovarian cancer. You might have them even in early stages of the disease. They are:

  • Bloating
  • Pain in your pelvis or belly
  • Trouble eating or quickly feeling that you’re full
  • Always feeling like you need to pee (urgency) or feeling like you need to pee often (frequency)

Many things other than ovarian cancer can cause these symptoms. Think about whether they’re unusual for you and whether they’re happening more often or seem to be getting worse.

Other symptoms that could mean you have ovarian cancer include:

  • Getting tired easily and being tired a lot (fatigue)
  • Pain during sex
  • Back pain
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Swelling in your belly
  • Unexplained weight changes -- losing weight without trying, or bloating that seems like weight gain
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding, especially after menopause

Keep in mind that even though these things can be signs of ovarian cancer, it’s more likely that something else is causing them.

Because the signs of ovarian cancer are common and somewhat vague, it’s hard to know when to call the doctor. Get checked out if your symptoms:

  • Are new to you
  • Happen more than 12 times in a month
  • Don’t go away with changes such as exercise, diet, laxatives, or more rest

Tell your doctor if ovarian cancer or breast cancer runs in your family.

Symptoms that last more than a couple of weeks are key to spotting ovarian cancer. Only about 15% of ovarian cancer is diagnosed in the early stages. Many women don’t notice problems until a tumor is more advanced.

A number of conditions can cause a mass or swelling in your pelvic area. They may be malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous). You might not know that you have one until your doctor spots it during a routine checkup.

An ovarian cyst is one of the most common causes of pelvic masses. Others include fibroids and endometriosis.

A pelvic mass can cause symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer, such as:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Swelling or a bloated feeling in your belly
  • Needing to pee often
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Aching in your lower back and thighs
  • Trouble emptying your bladder or bowels
  • Pain during sex
  • Weight gain with no clear cause
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Breast tenderness