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6 Ovarian Cancer Symptoms to Know

The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 20,000 new cases of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in the United States each year. Ovarian cancer accounts for over 13,000 deaths every year, more than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Please continue reading to learn about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.

What is ovarian cancer?

The ovaries are part of the female reproductive organs. They are a pair of round, walnut-sized organs, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries produce eggs during a woman’s reproductive years. 

Ovarian cancer is a cancer of the ovaries. It occurs when cells in the ovaries undergo mutations (alterations in the DNA). These abnormal cells multiply out of control and invade and destroy nearby healthy tissue. Metastatic ovarian cancer is an advanced stage of the disease in which cancer cells have spread from the ovaries to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, spleen, brain, and skin.

Who is at risk of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed in older women (more than half of the women diagnosed with this type of cancer are in their 60s). It is more common in White women than Black women. A small percentage of ovarian cancers are inherited and have been linked to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes (these genes are also associated with an increased risk of breast cancer). Certain genes associated with Lynch syndrome can also increase the risk of ovarian cancer. Other risk factors for developing ovarian cancer include:

  • Obesity or overweight.

  • Family history of ovarian cancer.

  • Postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy.

  • Endometriosis.

  • Nulliparity (never been pregnant).

  • Beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause at a later age.

What are the early warning signs of ovarian cancer?

Early warning signs of ovarian cancer may include bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating a light meal, and exhaustion.

It is worth noting that ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect in the early stages because it often does not cause any symptoms until the disease is advanced. Even when ovarian cancer symptoms are present, they are vague and can be mistaken for other, more common conditions. 

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include: 

  • Bloating (swollen tummy)

  • Early satiety (feeling full quickly after eating)

  • Pain in the abdomen, pelvic area, or back

  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or frequent urination

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

How long can you have ovarian cancer without knowing?

You can have ovarian cancer without knowing for many months, even years. Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague, and there is no way to accurately identify early-stage ovarian cancer with screening tests. As a result, ovarian cancers often remain undetected until they have spread outside the ovaries to other organs. By the time patients see their doctor, 70% to 80% already have stage III or IV ovarian cancer. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, globally, the average time between first noticing symptoms and an ovarian cancer diagnosis is 31 weeks (nearly 8 months).

How do you suspect ovarian cancer?

As mentioned, the common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, stomach or pelvic pain, fatigue, feeling full quickly, and changes in bowel and bladder habits. However, these symptoms are nonspecific and vague. For example, it is normal to feel bloated after a heavy meal or fatigued after a long trip. However, you should see a doctor if you have these signs and symptoms for two weeks or longer.

What is ovarian cancer treatment?

Doctors mainly use surgery and chemotherapy to treat ovarian cancer, although other modalities are also used sometimes.


  • Surgery to remove one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes. This procedure is done if your cancer is in the early stages. It leaves your uterus intact and allows you to become pregnant at a later date using frozen eggs, embryos, or donor eggs.

  • Surgery to remove both ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the uterus. This is done when the cancer is more advanced or if you don’t plan to have children in the future. 

  • Surgery for extensive cancer involves removing as much of the female reproductive organs as necessary to clear the cancer. You may receive chemotherapy before the surgery if you have advanced ovarian cancer.


This treatment involves using drugs to kill cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is usually given after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. It may also be given before surgery to shrink the size of the tumor in advanced ovarian cancer. Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy involves heating chemotherapy drugs, infusing them into the abdomen during surgery, and leaving them in place for some time before draining them out. 

Targeted therapy

These are drugs that target certain proteins in cancerous cells and attack their weaknesses, causing the cancerous cells to die. 

Hormone therapy

These drugs block the effects of estrogen on ovarian cancer cells. They are sometimes used to treat certain slow-growing ovarian cancers or recurrent ovarian cancers. 


This treatment helps your immune system fight cancer. It prevents cancerous cells from producing proteins that allow them to escape detection by the immune system. 

Palliative care

This is a type of specialized care that provides pain relief and relief from other symptoms of serious illnesses. It is offered to ovarian cancer patients undergoing other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy, to help them feel better and improve their quality of life.

How can you prevent ovarian cancer?

Taking birth control pills (oral contraceptives) can lower the risk of ovarian cancer. Talk to your healthcare provider about the pros and cons of taking OCPs.

Is there a screening test for ovarian cancer?

There is no standard screening test to detect ovarian cancer. You should discuss your ovarian cancer risk factors with your healthcare provider. For example, if you have a family history of ovarian cancer, your provider may refer you to a women’s health expert or genetic counselor to decide whether you should want to undergo genetic testing. If you are found to have a gene that increases the risk of ovarian cancer, the counselor may suggest considering surgical removal of the ovaries to prevent ovarian cancer. 

Women who carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation have a 25-30% risk of developing ovarian cancer. Having the BRCA1 mutation increases the risk to 45-50%. In comparison, the risk of ovarian cancer in the general population is 1.4%. So, if you have a high risk of ovarian cancer due to a BRCA mutation or other factors, your provider may recommend screening with twice-yearly pelvic ultrasound and CA-125 cancer marker and yearly pelvic exams.



  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/ovarian-cancer/about/key-statistics.html#

  2. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ovarian-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20375941

  3. https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/my-first-symptoms-of-ovarian-cancer---signs-to-look-for-and-when-to-see-a-doctor.h00-159544479.html#

  4. https://www.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/how-is-ovarian-cancer-diagnosed.h00-159616278.html#

  5. https://worldovariancancercoalition.org/too-late-to-treat-average-time-to-an-ovarian-cancer-diagnosis-is-almost-8-months/