Signs and Symptoms

Ovarian cancer: did you know?

teal ribbonThere is currently no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer. A Pap test does not screen for ovarian cancer. The best tool we have for early diagnosis is awareness of symptoms. The most common symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, change in urinary habits (frequency or urgency), and/or difficulty eating or feeling full after eating only a little. If you have these symptoms, and they are a significant change in your body and are persistent (lasting almost daily for more than a couple weeks), see your doctor, preferably a gynecologic oncologist or gynecologist.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Historically ovarian cancer was called the “silent killer” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the chance of cure was poor. However, recent studies have shown that most women do report early symptoms (often misdiagnosed). The following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population. (Source: The Society of Gynecologic Oncology Foundation for Women’s Cancers, Dec. 2015)

These symptoms include:
– Bloating
– Pelvic or abdominal pain
– Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
– Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Women with ovarian cancer report that symptoms are persistent and represent a change from normal for their bodies. The frequency and/or number of such symptoms are key factors in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease, which can result in a good long-term prognosis.

Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.

Risk Factors

Ovarian cancer risk increases with age, especially around the time of menopause. A family history of epithelial ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, peritoneal cancer, premenopausal breast cancer and/or male breast cancer is a very important risk factor. Some families affected by colon and endometrial cancer may also have an increased risk. Also, Ashkenazi Jewish women are at increased risk for developing ovarian cancer.

Other things that may increase your risk for ovarian cancer are infertility or not ever bearing children, obesity, having had more menstrual cycles (starting early and/or late menopause) and genetics. Factors thought to decrease risk include pregnancies, tubal ligation, long-term oral contraceptive use, breastfeeding and removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean that you’re sure to develop ovarian cancer, but your risk may be higher than that of the average woman.

Ovarian Cancer is:

– the 11th most common cancer in women, but it is the deadliest of all the gynecologic cancers
– the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among American women
– approximately 22,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015 and about 14,000 women will die from ovarian cancer in the United States this year
– early detection greatly increases chances of survival, so know the signs and symptoms; currently only about 15% of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in the early stages
– at this time, there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer; your doctor may order a CA-125 blood marker test and/or transvaginal ultrasound, currently the most common methods used to check for ovarian cancer; however, the CA-125 is not a reliable screening tool for the general public
– awareness, education and research are the keys to uncovering and discovering more about ovarian cancer.

When searching online for medical information, it is very important that you make sure you are seeking information from reliable sources since the Web can be a breeding ground for misinformation. Here are some sites we recommend, but always consult your physician before relying on any online health information. It is best to avoid getting information from social media, blogs or foreign websites. And beware of email solicitations that offer you free information or subscriptions.

American Cancer Society:
National Cancer Institute:
Society of Gynecologic Oncologists:
Mayo Clinic:

Clinical Trials:
Federal site that list trials:
Or check the website of the sponsoring facility.

Patient information and advocacy organizations:
Lilies of the Valley (Huntsville and the Tennessee Valley):
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance: (you can also sign up here for the Inspire online support  group, which is a good resource.)
Women’s Cancer Network:
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition:
Association of Cancer Online Resources:
FORCE: Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, BRCA information: