Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be very similar to symptoms of other more common conditions. To try to make sure women are diagnosed as early as possible, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) give the following guidance on symptoms.

GPs should offer ovarian cancer tests to women who have symptoms of bloating and any of the other symptoms below if they happen more than 12 times a month or continue for three weeks:

  • a long-lasting bloated feeling in your tummy (having a swollen tummy)
  • feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
  • pain or discomfort in the lower tummy area and/or back
  • needing to pass urine more often or more urgently (feeling like you can’t hold on).

Women over 50 who develop symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) should also see their GP for ovarian cancer tests. IBS symptoms include bloating and changes in bowel habit. It is unusual for women over 50 to develop IBS for the first time.

All these symptoms can be caused by other conditions but it’s very important to get them checked by your GP.

Other possible symptoms of ovarian cancer may include:

  • changes in bowel habits (diarrhoea or constipation)
  • pain during sex
  • weight gain or weight loss
  • unexplained or extreme tiredness.

Back to Understanding ovarian cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease of our cells. Sometimes cells go wrong and become abnormal. They keep dividing to make more abnormal cells which form a lump or tumour.

The ovaries

The ovaries are two small organs in a woman’s pelvis. They are part of the reproductive system and also create hormones.

Types of ovarian cancer

Most ovarian cancers start in the cells that cover the surface of the ovary. There are several types.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.