You’ve probably heard that ovarian cancer is a “silent killer,” but there are often early warning signs.
Unfortunately, some of the earliest symptoms are easy for both people with cancer and their doctors to dismiss.
Find out the earliest symptoms of ovarian cancer and make yourself safe and healthy.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be difficult to recognize, particularly in its early stages.
This is because they are often the same as symptoms of other less serious conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).
However, three main symptoms are more frequent in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. They are:
- increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
- persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
- difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous
Other symptoms, such as back pain, needing to pass urine more frequently than usual, and pain during sex may be the result of other conditions in the pelvic area. However, they may be present in some women with ovarian cancer.
These symptoms are also commonly caused by benign (non-cancerous) diseases and by cancers of other organs. When they are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be persistent and represent a change from normal − for example, they occur more often or are more severe. If a woman has these symptoms more than 12 times a month, she should see her doctor, preferably a gynecologist.
Others symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Upset stomach
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Menstrual changes
- Abdominal swelling with weight loss
However, these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions, and most of them occur just about as often in women who don’t have ovarian cancer.
- If you have these types of symptoms, try keeping a diary to record how many of these symptoms you have over a longer period. Bear in mind that ovarian cancer is rare in women under 40 years of age.
- See your GP if you have these symptoms regularly (on most days for three weeks or more). Although it’s unlikely they’re being caused by a serious problem, it’s best to check.
- If you’ve already seen your GP and the symptoms continue or get worse, you should go back and explain this. You know your body better than anyone.
Download our symptoms leaflet to find out more (available in more languages). You can also order symptoms leaflets for yourself or to raise awareness
“I took this thought home with me. Please listen to what your body is trying to tell you. Never ever be afraid to start the ball rolling by going to your GP. It could be too late to conquer it. Don’t wait. Too many loved ones too many friends need you. You are special.” Moira, Warrington
Our ovarian cancer Symptoms Diary app is an easy way to accurately record your symptoms and communicate more effectively with your GP. You can also download a print version of the Symptoms Diary.
- Ovarian Cancer Action: video about the symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Target Ovarian Cancer: ovarian cancer symptoms
- Ovarian Cancer Action: symptoms diary (PDF, 61kb)
Watch our symptoms video
We asked women with ovarian cancer to talk to us about their experience of ovarian cancer symptoms. Find out what they said in this video.
The symptoms information on this page is approved by the Information Standard scheme to ensure that it provides accurate and high-quality information.
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