The Most Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

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Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that affects women's ovaries, the female organs that produce eggs. Ovarian cancer is often referred as the "silent killer" because ovarian cancer symptoms do not often appear until it is too late for effective treatment. Experts recommend that women who experience symptoms daily for three weeks or longer should see their doctor. You should keep in mind, however, that the symptoms of ovarian cancer are fairly vague and are also signs of other, less serious conditions.

The Most Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Experts have identified three symptoms that may aid in early detection. These are:

  • feeling full so quickly while eating that you are regularly unable to have a full meal
  • abdominal bloating and/or pelvic pain
  • the frequent urge to urinate

The Symptoms of Advanced Ovarian Cancer

As ovarian cancer progresses, women may experience these symptoms:

Changes in bowel movements: Women may experience constipation, diarrhea, or other bowel changes as ovarian cancer spreads. The most common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are often the same bowel change symptoms that women experience with ovarian cancer.

Pain during sexual intercourse: The most common cause of pain during intercourse is a lack of vaginal lubrication. In women who have advanced ovarian cancer, pain during intercourse is usually experienced in the pelvis or on the right or left side of the pelvis.

Persistent fatigue: Fatigue is the most commonly reported cancer symptom. If you consistently feel tired, you should see your doctor. Of course, fatigue is not unique to ovarian cancer and is common with many other less serious conditions. In women who have ovarian cancer, as the disease progresses, the cancer cells compete with healthy cells for energy, and that results in fatigue.

Abdominal weight gain and bloating: Women with advanced ovarian cancer often experience a marked change in the size of their abdomen. It is caused by the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (distension). Please note that many other conditions can also cause distension and bloating, not just ovarian cancer.

Sudden weight gain or weight loss: Weight gain and weight loss are both symptoms of ovarian cancer. Again, it is a non-specific symptom and can be caused by another disease or condition.

Who Is Most at Risk of Developing Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer most often occurs in women who are post-menopausal, have a family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer, suffer from obesity, and have used estrogen replacement therapy. Ovarian cancer is not a common type of cancer, but it is often fatal because it is usually diagnosed when the disease has already spread, making treatment options limited or ineffective.

While it is commonly known as the "silent killer" because there are often no symptoms in the early stages, some experts believe that some women may experience early warning signs. Read more about the early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

If you do experience symptoms, they may seem so minor that you're tempted to not give them a second thought.

But if you notice that these symptoms are persistent and more severe than usual, it's worth taking to your doctor, just to be safe.

Ovarian cancer is not common, so your doctor will likely look for more probable causes first. If you continue to experience symptoms despite undergoing treatment for other conditions, be persistent. 


American Cancer Society. Detailed Guide: Ovarian Cancer. 06 Feb 2008. Accessed 21 July 2009.

National Cancer Institute. Ovarian Cancer. 23 April 2007. Accessed 21 July 2009.