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Early-stage ovarian cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms. What’s more, as the tumor progresses and symptoms become apparent, the signs are often vague and can be easily misattributed to a less serious condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or constipation.

As with any type of cancer, an early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is the key to achieving the best possible outcome and quality of life. Because there is currently no reliable screening test available for ovarian cancer, every woman should become familiar with her body and what is normal for her, and promptly discuss any unusual changes with a physician. This is especially important for women who are at increased risk for developing ovarian cancer due to their age or family history.

Early warning signs of ovarian cancer

Because the ovaries are tiny and located deep within the abdominal cavity, small cellular changes within them usually do not have a noticeable effect on the surrounding tissues. Often, the first warning sign of ovarian cancer is abdominal pain or bloating, which may be easily overlooked.

Common ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

As ovarian cancer grows and spreads within the pelvic region, the tumor may begin to pressure nearby organs and tissues. In addition to abdominal pain and bloating, the most common symptoms include:

  • Pelvic pain, which can range from mild to severe
  • Low back pain
  • Indigestion and gas
  • Constipation and other changes in bowel habits
  • Menstrual periods that are irregular or heavier than usual
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Unexplained weight loss

Less common ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Urinary urgency or frequency
  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Acid reflux symptoms, such as chest pain and heartburn
  • An early feeling of fullness (satiety) when eating
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
Ovarian cancer survivor, Donna, smiling and holding two framed pictures of her family and her dog.

"Once you were part of the Moffitt family, you never felt alone."

Donna, Ovarian Cancer Survivor

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What does ovarian cancer feel like?

Because every woman and every cancer is unique, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can vary widely, and some symptoms may be more uncomfortable than others. With regard to discomfort, some women simply report feeling “off” before receiving a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.

Bloating is one of the most common and noticeable signs of advanced ovarian cancer. Due to fluid buildup, the abdomen may become swollen and distended. The bloating may be painful or accompanied by an uncomfortable sensation of tightness in the stomach area along with indigestion and gas. The resulting pressure on the stomach can cause a loss of appetite, while the resulting pressure on the lungs can cause shortness of breath.

Do ovarian cancer symptoms come on suddenly?

Ovarian cancer was long believed to remain “silent” until it spread. However, recent studies suggest that early-stage ovarian cancer may produce noticeable symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating, which sometimes come on suddenly.

Are ovarian cancer symptoms different at each stage?

Cancer staging is a standardized process that provides useful information about cancer spread. Ovarian cancer is staged based on an evaluation of tissue samples taken from the pelvic and abdominal regions. This information is important because ovarian cancer symptoms and treatment can vary at different stages.

There are four main stages of ovarian cancer:

  • Stage 1 – The cancer is confined to one or both ovaries.
  • Stage 2 – The cancer has spread beyond the ovaries to other structures in the pelvis, such as the uterus or fallopian tubes.
  • Stage 3 – The cancer has spread beyond the pelvis to the lining of the abdomen (peritoneum) or nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 4 – The cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes and organs.

At stages 1 and 2, when the cancer is confined to the ovaries or has only spread to nearby tissues, the symptoms may be mild or nonspecific, making the condition challenging to diagnose. At stages 3 and 4, when the cancer has spread to distant organs, such as the abdomen, liver or lungs, the symptoms may become more noticeable and severe.

Woman experience bloating in stomach

Advanced ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

As ovarian cancer progresses, its symptoms tend to become more pronounced. Additionally, if the tumor spreads to another part of the body, additional symptoms may develop. For instance, ovarian cancer that has spread to the lungs may cause persistent coughing or shortness of breath.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about ovarian cancer signs and symptoms

The following FAQs-related articles provide additional information about ovarian cancer signs and symptoms:

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

Consistently ranked among the top 1% of cancer centers in the nation, Moffitt is a trusted provider of ovarian cancer diagnostic and treatment 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. The multispecialty team in our gynecological clinic focuses exclusively on cancers that affect the female reproductive system, and our experts are readily available for consultations. Whether you are experiencing new symptoms, looking for a second opinion or seeking relief from the side effects of treatment, our skilled ovarian cancer team can help.

To request an appointment with a specialist in our gynecological clinic, please call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.


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