Recognizing the Signs of Ovarian Cancer
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2023

Recognizing the Signs of Ovarian Cancer

When it comes to ovarian cancer there is good news, bad news, and unmet challenges.

The good news is that the rate at which women are being diagnosed with ovarian cancer has been slowly (very slowly) falling over the past 20 years.

The bad news is that The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2023, about 19,710 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 13,270 women will die of the disease.

The primary challenge related to ovarian cancer is that there is no accepted screening test for detecting the disease (Note: The Pap test does not test for ovarian cancer; it screens for cervical cancer). This fact underscores the importance of recognizing the symptoms of ovarian cancer, which can lead to a diagnosis in an earlier, more curable stage.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

BLOATING: One of the most common red flags that point to ovarian cancer, bloating is experienced as a feeling of tightness, pressure, or fullness in your belly. It may or may not be accompanied by a visibly swollen belly. Any related pain may range from mild discomfort to extreme pain.    

TROUBLE EATING or FEELING FULL QUICKLY: Fluid buildup related to ovarian cancer can cause trouble eating and make you feel full quicker than usual. In many cases, unexplained weight loss may occur. 

URGENT OR FREQUENT NEED TO URINATE: Fluid buildup and cancer cell growth may put pressure on the urinary tract leaving you feeling like you have an urgent need to pee and needing to pee more often than normal.

PELVIC or ABDOMINAL PAIN: Often compared to menstrual cramps, cancer-related pelvic and abdominal pain can be a particularly strong indicator of ovarian cancer in post-menopausal women. FYI: About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Extreme fatigue  
  • Frequent indigestion
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Changes to your period, such as irregular or heavier than normal bleeding  
  • Any period-like bleeding in post-menopausal women

While any of these symptoms may be caused by non-cancerous diseases, when they are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be persistent and a change from normal. If you experience these symptoms regularly for more than two weeks, contact your doctor immediately.

FREE Symptom Tracker
Keeping track of symptoms—especially multiple symptoms—can be tricky but is extremely important as it may allow for earlier detection of disease.
To help you stay on top of symptoms the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition developed this handy SYMPTOM DIARY. Use it to track your symptoms and share it with your doctor to provide a comprehensive picture of what you’re experiencing.



Mitchell Carl, MD, specializes in Hematology/Oncology at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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