Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
September 26, 2019

In the early stages, the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are easy to blame on indigestion, IBS, or aging. See a doctor if your sensations aren’t normal.

Bloating. Feeling too full. Constipation. Those are all common symptoms. You might assume you have indigestion — or if it happens often, food intolerances, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). But this kind of ordinary discomfort can also indicate early ovarian cancer.

In its earliest stages, the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are easy to dismiss or mistake as something else.


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Jennifer's son is an ovarian cancer specialist. Yet it took her a while to recognize her own symptoms as ovarian cancer. In her late 60s, she began having trouble getting to the toilet on time to urinate. This isn’t uncommon among older women, so she didn’t suspect anything serious. She had diarrhea, which she attributed to food intolerances. Her jeans got tighter, and she began to look as if she was pregnant.

Allison went to the doctor because of a pain on her lower left-hand side. After a urine test, she was told she had an infection and prescribed antibiotics. But the pain came back, now worse. She also had a backache and bloating and had lost her appetite.

The first sign for Audrey was a sharp pain in her stomach. Her doctor guessed it was IBS and suggested she come back if the pain didn’t go away. Then she felt a lump under her skin in the area. That’s when her doctor ordered tests, including the test for CA125 in the blood, which at high levels is a sign of ovarian cancer.

The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling (Notice if it seems constant and isn’t clearly linked to gassy foods. One clue, if you are post-menopausal: you may have the strange sensation of having a bad period.)
  • Pain in your abdomen or pelvis (It might be a dull ache or sharper and feel like acid reflux.)
  • Difficulty eating, or feeling full quickly
  • Lack of appetite
  • Feeling an urgent need to urinate
  • Needing to urinate frequently (Notice if you have pressure in your pelvis.)
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Change in menstrual periods
  • Vaginal bleeding between periods
  • Back pain
  • Weight gain or loss (Notice if you are eating less but your clothes are tight. Your face may appear thinner while your abdomen grows larger — a malignant growth can eat up nutrients so your body may be drawing down on your fat stores even as you loosen your belt.)

If you experience any of these symptoms every day, or almost every day, for more than two weeks, mention ovarian cancer to your doctor.

Ask for a diagnostic imaging scan if you’re enduring persistent abdominal pain or pelvic discomfort. For pelvic pain you will generally get a pelvic ultrasound. If you have pain in your upper abdomen, you’ll have tests to rule out gallstones and acid reflux.

Be persistent, especially if you have other risk factors, such as a family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Even the vague idea that something’s not right is worth investigating. The sooner you catch ovarian cancer, the more successful your treatment will be.


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March 18, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell RN