Ovarian Cancer Symptoms: Incontinence & Urinary Issues

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 be why the disease is not typically caught in its early stages.

Many of the symptoms of the disease can also be symptoms of a noncancerous disease. However, you should talk with your doctor if you have symptoms that are constant and do not go away on their own in a short period of time.

Incontinence (losing control of the bladder, which can lead to leaking urine) and urinary issues can be symptoms of ovarian cancer. This may include having the sensation of needing to urinate urgently or frequently.1

They can also be symptoms of various other ailments. If you have developed incontinence or urinary issues, make an appointment with your doctor sooner rather than later. This will help you and your doctor find the underlying causes of your symptoms.

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is when a person leaks urine due to loss of bladder control. This can be anywhere between a few drops to full emptying of the bladder.1

There are different types of urinary incontinence. The 3 main types are:1

  • Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) – Leaking urine when coughing, laughing, running, or exercising
  • Urgency urinary incontinence – A sudden, strong urge to urinate that is difficult to stop. An “overactive bladder” involves symptoms of urgency and frequency that may include incontinence
  • Mixed incontinence – Includes symptoms of both SUI and urgency urinary incontinence

There are often other symptoms that occur with urinary incontinence:1

  • Urgency, which is a strong urge to urinate
  • Frequency, which is urinating more often than typical for you
  • Nocturia, which is waking from sleep to urinate
  • Dysuria, which pain with urination
  • Nocturnal enuresis, which is urine leakage while sleeping

Why does ovarian cancer cause incontinence?

In some cases of ovarian cancer, urinary incontinence can happen because the cancer may be pushing on the bladder.2

One study of 107 women with ovarian cancer found that sudden or marked changes in urinary leakage were common. Urinary incontinence, urgency, or frequency were among the most common symptoms in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in stages I or II. The incontinence tended to worsen over a very short period of time, within as little as 2 or 3 weeks. This differs from the usual course of incontinence, where it often happens over several years.2

Sudden or marked changes in urination or urinary incontinence should be something that raises concerns. If you start experiencing this and the symptoms worsen over a period of weeks, talk with your doctor. If all of the usual tests are done and no cause can be found yet the symptoms continue, more tests should be done. Your doctor should keep the possibility of ovarian cancer in mind.2

How can incontinence be managed?

In ovarian cancer, symptom relief, including urinary issues, 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

Urinary incontinence and urinary problems can be signs of various issues and do not mean you have advanced ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing urinary issues or incontinence, especially if the symptoms have arisen in a matter of weeks, this may be a cause for concern and something to discuss with your doctor.

Your doctor will do an exam and get more information from you, as well as a family history. This can help your doctor figure out the underlying causes of your urinary issues.

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