Ovarian Cancer Symptoms: Pain

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

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be hard to pinpoint. They 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 symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those of other health conditions, including many non-cancerous issues. However, if you experience any new or unusual symptoms that are continuous and do not go away their own in a short period of time, you should see your doctor.

Pain is often a symptom of ovarian cancer, especially advanced ovarian cancer. The types of pain that people typically report may include:1

  • Abdominal pain
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain with intercourse (sex)

A person might have 1 kind of pain, or they might have all these kinds of pain. Each person’s symptoms of ovarian cancer can vary, and other areas of pain may also be present.

Being aware of your body may help you notice pain that is abnormal for you. If you are experiencing new pain or pain 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.

What causes pain in ovarian cancer?

Pain typically occurs as the cancer becomes more widespread and more advanced. This can happen because tumors are pressing on various organs, nerves, muscles, or bones. Tumors that have grown into organs can also cause pain.1

Ascites, or fluid that can build up in the abdomen with ovarian cancer, can also contribute to abdominal pain. Tumors that have grown into the intestines may cause blockages or constipation, which can also cause pain.1

Painful intercourse can occur if tumors have grown into the vagina and are then irritated by sex. Ovarian cancer can also cause vaginal dryness, contributing to painful sex.1

It might be helpful to keep a log of when the pain occurs and in what context so you can give your doctor the most accurate picture of your symptoms.

How can pain be managed?

In advanced ovarian cancer or ovarian cancer that has come back, symptom relief, including pain, 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.2

If you are experiencing pain while undergoing treatment, talk to your doctor and treatment team. There are many different kinds of drugs, different ways to take the medicines you need, and non-drug methods to help control and treat pain. Keeping your pain under control can improve your quality of life.3

Things to consider

Pain can be uncomfortable and interfere with your life. It should be taken seriously. If the pain lasts for more than a week or 2, call your doctor. If you have a family history of ovarian cancer, call your doctor when you notice the pain, especially if nothing helps relieve it. They will be able to do a pelvic exam and any other tests to find out what the underlying causes might be.

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