Is It Cancer? The Possible Causes of Ovarian Pain

Common Causes of Ovary Pain

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Most women have experienced some degree of ovary pain or ovarian discomfort in their lifetime, mostly due to benign causes such as ovulation or menstruation. Still, ovary pain can be frightening, especially when it is persistent. If your ovary pain has been frequent and appears to be accompanied by other symptoms, it's natural to wonder whether ovarian cancer is the culprit.

And it may, in fact, be cancer. But more often, it's not.

Ovarian Pain and Ovarian Cancer: Is There a Connection?

It's true that women who have 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 when it comes to ovarian cancer detection.

For one, during the early stages of ovarian cancer, symptoms can include pelvic or abdominal discomfortbloating, 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.

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 ovary pain. Only a physician can determine the cause and the appropriate course of action.

Common Causes

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 ovary pain include, but aren't limited to:

Ovarian Pain During 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 (a pregnancy that takes place outside the uterus, such as in one of the fallopian tubes). If you are experiencing moderate to severe ovary pain and are pregnant, seek medical attention immediately. (Learn more about ectopic pregnancy symptoms.)

What to Expect at the Doctor

If you are experiencing pelvic pain, your doctor will likely ask several questions, including:

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


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