Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Pay attention to your body: Julie describes her brave journey from a healthy, avid runner to an ovarian cancer survivor.

Symptoms to Tell Your Doctor

Ovarian cancer was sometimes called the “silent” cancer because it was believed that symptoms didn’t occur until it reached an advanced and more difficult to treat stage. In reality, ovarian cancer may not be so silent after all. Even early-stage disease produces some warning signs, but because the symptoms can be vague, they are often overlooked, dismissed as part of aging or mistaken for gastrointestinal conditions.

Most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Therefore, all women should see their physician (preferably their gynecologist) for evaluation if any of the following symptoms are new within the past year, and occur more than 12 times in a month:

  • abdominal bloating
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • unintended weight loss
  • pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure
  • abnormal  vaginal bleeding or discharge

When the above symptoms are caused by ovarian cancer, they often persist for several weeks and are more severe and represent a change from normal. Additional symptoms to tell your doctor include:

  • fatigue
  • indigestion
  • nausea and vomiting
  • back pain
  • pain during sex
  • constipation or any persistent change in bowel movements

Because many of these symptoms seem related to gastrointestinal issues, your physician may first recommend tests to check for reflux disease or esophagitis. However, it’s important to know that if these symptoms don’t resolve, you should pursue further testing and evaluation or referral to gynecologic oncologist for an accurate diagnosis.

In addition, if you have a history of benign ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids, some of these symptoms may be familiar to you. While these conditions do not increase your risk for ovarian cancer, be sure to tell your doctor if you experience a change in symptoms and seek an accurate diagnosis.