Common Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries. These are the female reproductive glands where the eggs (ova) are formed. The ovaries are mainly made up of 3 different types of cells. Each type of cell can become a different kind of tumor:1

  • Epithelial tumors, which form from the cells on the outer layer of the ovary. This is the most common type of ovarian tumor.
  • Germ cell tumors, which form in the cells that produce the eggs.
  • Stromal tumors, which form from cells that are part of the structural tissue that holds the ovary together. These tumors also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Like many other types of cancer, ovarian cancer can spread (metastasize) to other parts and organs throughout the body.

Although early-stage ovarian cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms, certain symptoms can appear as the disease progresses. The symptoms tend to be vague and nonspecific. This is why it is important to be aware of potential symptoms, especially if they do not go away and get worse over time.

Common signs and symptoms

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are more likely to occur when the disease has spread. However, it is still possible to have symptoms when ovarian cancer is in its early stages. The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:2

These symptoms may also be symptoms of other issues or diseases. When they are related to ovarian cancer, they are often different from how you normally feel. If ovarian cancer is the cause, they likely will not go away on their own and might get worse over time.2

Less common signs and symptoms

While not every person with ovarian cancer experiences some of the less common signs and symptoms of the condition, you should talk to your doctor if these are a change from how you normally feel. These other symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:2,3

  • Feeling very tired
  • Back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Constipation
  • Abnormal periods (heavier or irregular) or vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal swelling, even with weight loss

Things to consider

Most people who have these symptoms do not have ovarian cancer. If you have any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks and they are not your norm, see your doctor for an exam. This is especially important if the symptoms do not go away on their own.

If your doctor thinks you may have ovarian cancer, make an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist to confirm the diagnosis and talk about treatment plans. Ovarian cancer is treatable, and there is support for you at each step along the way. Talk with your doctor and treatment team about what you can expect and what the diagnosis means for you.

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