What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Watch out for these ovarian cancer symptoms:

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating
  • Finding it difficult to eat or feeling full quickly
  • Needing to wee more often

If you’re regularly experiencing these symptoms on most days it’s important to talk to your GP as soon as possible. You can use our symptoms diary to note down each time your symptoms occur, when you first noticed them and if they seem to be getting worse.

Other symptoms you may notice include:

  • Back pain
  • Changes in your bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • Feeling tired all the time

To learn more about the symptoms of ovarian cancer you can download our ovarian cancer symptoms leaflet.

Could it be something else?

Other conditions can produce symptoms similar to ovarian cancer or may cause you to worry that you're at risk of developing ovarian cancer.

These include:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

IBS is a collection of unexplained symptoms relating to a disturbance of the colon or large intestine.

GPs often mistake ovarian cancer for IBS as the symptoms are very similar. And women with IBS often worry that their symptoms are due to ovarian cancer.

You should know that:

  • IBS develops for the first time in patients in their 20s and 30s
  • If you develop IBS symptoms for the first time and you are in your 50s, it is unlikely to be IBS
  • IBS symptoms come and go and are related to eating particular foods and stress
  • Ovarian cancer symptoms are persistent and are not affected by your diet or stress

If you have persistent stomach pain, bloating, find it difficult to eat or feel full quickly it's important to talk to your GP as soon as possible.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop in the ovary. They can occur as part of a woman’s normal menstrual cycle during ovulation. Most women who have ovarian cysts don’t even know that they’re there.

Very occasionally a cyst may grow big enough to cause symptoms similar to ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cysts are diagnosed in the same way that ovarian cancer is – a CA125 blood test and a pelvic ultrasound.

Treatment of ovarian cysts depends on their size and the symptoms they produce.

  • Ovarian cysts that are 3-5cm in size don’t require follow-up as they’ll usually disappear within three months
  • Cysts that are 5-7cm should be observed with a yearly ultrasound
  • Cysts larger than 7cm may need to be removed with surgery

Ovarian cysts are less common after menopause because ovulation no longer happens. If ovarian cysts do occur after menopause that may cause a little bit of concern.

Ovarian cysts are rarely cancerous, but your doctor may still want to carry out tests to rule out ovarian cancer.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Polycystic ovary syndrome or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) occurs when small, harmless cysts form on the surface of the ovary. PCOS cysts are sacs containing eggs that have not matured correctly due to an imbalance in the body's hormone levels. This imbalance prevents the egg from being released each month, leading to infrequent ovulation.

Women with PCOS are sometimes worried that they have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer. However, research does not indicate a link between PCOS and ovarian cancer.

PCOS is diagnosed through an ultrasound scan. It can’t be cured but treatment options are available.