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Ovarian cancer symptoms typically aren’t noticeable in the early stages of disease. Even as the cancer progresses and causes symptoms, signs are often vague and can be easily mistaken for other conditions unrelated to cancer, like irritable bowel syndrome or constipation. Adding to the complexity is the fact that the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the outcome—but there is no reliable screening method for ovarian cancer. All of these factors underscore the importance of a woman being aware of changes in her body and promptly seeing a physician when she notices anything different.

Early warning signs & early symptoms of ovarian cancer

Early-stage ovarian cancer may produce no symptoms at all, or only mild or nondescript symptoms. That’s mainly because the ovaries are very small and located deep within the abdominal cavity, and small cellular changes usually don’t have a noticeable effect on the surrounding tissues or structures.

Common ovarian cancer signs & symptoms

As ovarian cancer spreads and begins applying pressure on other structures and organs within the pelvis area, a variety of symptoms can emerge, such as:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Pelvic pain, which may be mild or severe
  • Back pain
  • Indigestion and gas
  • Constipation and other changes in bowel habits
  • Menstrual cycle changes
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause

Some signs of ovarian cancer are less common than others. While the following symptoms are associated with ovarian cancer, they tend to affect a smaller number of women:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Acid reflux symptoms like chest pain and heartburn
  • Quickly feeling uncomfortably full after eating
  • Pain during sex

Still, it’s important to take all possible symptoms of ovarian cancer seriously and promptly seek a medical opinion if they occur. This is especially true for people who have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, such as women who are older, obese or have a family history of ovarian malignancies.

What does ovarian cancer feel like?

Many women wonder if ovarian cancer hurts. Because every person and every cancer is different, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can vary widely, and some symptoms are more uncomfortable than others. Some women simply report feeling "off" for several months prior to receiving a diagnosis.

Bloating is one of the most common and noticeable signs of advanced ovarian cancer. Due to a buildup of fluid, a woman’s abdomen can become swollen and distended. The bloating may be painful or accompanied by an uncomfortable feeling of tightness in the stomach area, as well as indigestion and an increased need to pass gas. Additionally, this extra pressure on the stomach can cause a loss of appetite, while extra pressure on the lungs can cause shortness of breath.

In general, any sudden health change should raise a red flag, even if it would otherwise not cause concern. Since an early diagnosis is critical to achieving the best possible outcome, all women are urged to tell their physicians about any possible early signs of ovarian cancer that they are experiencing.

Advanced ovarian cancer signs & symptoms

The symptoms of advanced ovarian cancer are largely the same as symptoms of earlier-stage disease, but they may become more pronounced or painful as the malignancy progresses. Additionally, if the cancer spreads to other parts of your body, you may experience symptoms related specifically to the affected areas, such as coughing or shortness of breath for ovarian cancer that has spread to the lungs.

Woman experience bloating in stomach

Common ovarian cancer signs & symptoms FAQs

For further reading on the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, explore these FAQs:

How Moffitt Cancer Center approaches ovarian cancer

Recognized among the top 1% of cancer centers by national experts, Moffitt Cancer Center is a trusted provider of ovarian cancer diagnostics and treatment. The multispecialty team at Moffitt’s gynecologic clinic focuses exclusively on malignancies that affect the female reproductive system, and our experts are readily available to all women for consultation. Whether you are facing new symptoms, looking for a second or third opinion or are in need of symptom relief in conjunction with your current treatment plan, our skilled ovarian cancer team is here to assist you. 

Moffitt is pleased to offer a complete range of ovarian cancer services, including genetic testing to assess hereditary risk, individualized supportive care from compassionate specialists and trailblazing clinical trials that are improving outcomes for patients today and into the future. In fact, Moffitt is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida—an honor that speaks directly to our commitment to research and innovation—and achieves cancer survival rates that are up to four times higher than national averages.

For the best cancer outcomes, choose Moffitt first. To learn more about Moffitt’s approach to ovarian cancer or request an appointment, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.


American Cancer Society: Signs & Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
American Cancer Society: Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors Can Cancer Symptoms Be Mistaken for Menopause?