Ovarian Cancer Symptoms: Bloating

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

Symptoms of ovarian cancer tend to be general and not specific to the condition. This may explain why the disease is not usually caught in its early stages.

Many of the potential symptoms of ovarian cancer may be caused by another condition. However, symptoms that linger and do not resolve on their own in a short period of time should be discussed with your doctor.

Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, especially advanced ovarian cancer. Studies have found that bloating is experienced in about 30 percent of women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.1,2

Because bloating can also be a result of harmless things like gas, eating certain foods, or some medicines. Being aware of your body may help you notice bloating that is not normal for you. If you are experiencing new bloating or bloating that does not go away, talk to your doctor sooner rather than later. This will help you and your doctor find the underlying causes of any symptoms you might be having.

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What is bloating?

Bloating is when your belly or abdominal area feels full and tight. Your abdominal area may also be slightly swollen or enlarged. It can be uncomfortable and make some people self-conscious.3

What can cause bloating?

Lots of things can cause bloating. One common cause is constipation. Other common causes include:2-4

  • Gut sensitivity and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Gastroparesis (a condition that prevents stomach emptying, causing bloating)
  • Gas
  • Food sensitivities/intolerances and drinking too much carbonated fluid quickly
  • Certain medications that have bloating as a side effect
  • A high-sodium diet
  • Normal changes during the menstrual cycle

Why does ovarian cancer cause bloating?

The bloating from ovarian cancer is due to a buildup of fluid, referred to as ascites. This can give your gas or make your stomach feel painful or tight. Sometimes, the large amount of fluid can also cause decreased appetite or indigestion, as well as shortness of breath.2

The buildup of fluid with ovarian cancer can happen for several reasons:2

  • If the lymphatic system is blocked by ovarian cancer, lymph fluid will not drain properly and can pool in the stomach.
  • If ovarian cancer has spread to the peritoneum (the membrane that covers the internal organs) it can stimulate the production of extra fluid.
  • If ovarian cancer has spread to the vein that takes blood to the liver or to the liver itself, blood pressure can rise. This can cause fluid to leak from the liver and intestines and build up around the stomach.

How can bloating be managed?

In ovarian cancer, symptom relief, including bloating, is important. This may be done through surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. Treatment and symptom relief can depend on your overall health, the stage of cancer, and your treatment preferences.3

Things to consider

Bloating can be a sign of many different things and does not necessarily signal advanced ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing bloating, consider whether or not this is normal for you. Do you often have bloating after consuming certain foods and drinks? Do you have bowel issues or food sensitivities? Are you constipated, or could this be due to a medicine you are taking? Symptoms that are out of the norm are usually more worrisome.

Another thing to consider is whether the bloating goes away on its own or whether it gets worse over time. Bloating that gets worse over a long period may be more of a concern. Have you noticed your stomach bloating visibly getting worse? These things signal that you may want to make an appointment with your doctor. If there is an underlying cause for the bloating, they can do an exam and suggest some tests that can help determine what may be causing the bloating.