Can Ovarian Pain be Ovarian Cancer?

The Connection Between Ovarian Pain and Ovarian Cancer

Woman rubbing aching stomach
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Most women have experienced some degree of ovarian discomfort in their lifetime, mostly due to benign causes such as ovulation or menstruation. Still, ovarian pain can be frightening, especially when it is persistent. If your pain has been frequent and appears to be accompanied by other symptoms, it's natural to wonder if ovarian cancer is the culprit. And it may indeed be cancer. But more often, it's not.

Ovarian Pain and Ovarian Cancer: Is There a Connection?

It's true that women with ovarian cancer do experience abdominal pain, pressure, or discomfort. And experts do recommend that women who experience pelvic pain daily for at least two to three weeks consult their physician for further evaluation.

But there are many variables in ovarian cancer detection.

For one, during the early stages of ovarian cancer, symptoms can include everything from pelvic or abdominal discomfort and bloating to difficulty eating, feeling full, increased abdominal size, and urinary symptoms (urgency and frequency).

In some women, ovarian cancer is initially suspected when a mass or lump is felt during a routine pelvic examination. However, a mass is not always detectable in the early stages of ovarian cancer. Even when a mass is detected, it does not necessarily mean that the woman has ovarian cancer. A number of other non-cancerous conditions can cause masses.

So while ovarian/pelvic pain can be a symptom of ovarian cancer, it can also be the symptom of several other, less serious conditions. This is why it's so important to see a doctor if you are experiencing persistent pain. Only a physician can determine the cause and appropriate course of action.

Causes of Ovarian Pain

Many times, "ovarian" pain isn't caused by anything related to the ovaries.

Harmless conditions like constipation or gas can cause pain that only feels as if it's coming from the ovaries. Other conditions related to ovarian pain include, but aren't limited to:

Ovarian Pain in Pregnancy

Severe ovarian cramping or pain during pregnancy is not normal, and emergency medical treatment may be necessary, as this is a symptom of an ectopic pregnancy. If you are experiencing moderate to severe ovarian pain and are pregnant, please seek medical attention immediately. (Learn more about ectopic pregnancy symptoms.)

What to Expect at the Doctor If You Have Ovarian Pain

If you are experiencing pelvic pain, your doctor will have several questions for you:

  • What side does your pelvic pain occur on?
  • How often does it occur?
  • Do any activities cause it or worsen it?
  • Are your bowel movements regular?
  • What are you doing to manage the pain?
  • How severe is your pain?

Your doctor will likely also want to do a pelvic exam and may recommend that you have a pelvic ultrasound. These are standard exams that help doctors determine the cause of ovarian pain.

Further Reading

Pelvic Pain. Pelvic pain is a symptom that affects many women and that can be caused by a wide variety of conditions and diseases, from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) to gynecologic cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms. Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries. It is often referred as the "silent killer" because symptoms often do not appear until it is too late for effective treatment. Experts recommend that women who experience symptoms daily for three weeks or longer see their doctor. Keep in mind that these symptoms are also signs of other, less serious conditions.


Lee-May, Chen. "Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis and Staging." UpToDate. Accessed: November 2010.

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