Ovarian cancer constitutes 20,000 cases in the United States each year. This relatively rare and often-fatal form of cancer occurs in the ovaries, part of the female reproductive system. One reason for its high fatality is the lack of symptoms in the early stages -- only about 20% of ovarian cancers are detected early. The tumors spread quickly to the pelvis, intestines, liver, and stomach, which makes treatment difficult. The symptoms that do occur early are often generic and easily mistaken for other conditions or minor illnesses.

Pelvic and Abdominal Pain

Women with early-stage ovarian cancer may experience some type of pain, cramping, or pressure in the pelvic area, abdomen, or stomach. This pain feels different than that associated with menstrual cramping and does not follow the same cycle. When pain that may be initially attributed to indigestion or heartburn continues for more than a few weeks, seek medical attention.


Urination Frequency

Ovarian cancer can affect urination, causing women to feel the need to urinate more often, with or without success. Incontinence makes it difficult to hold in urine on the way to the bathroom and urges can come on quickly. Some women also experience urinary leakage when they aren't actively trying to pass urine. These symptoms lasting more than a week may indicate an infection or more serious condition.


Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite can be an early symptom of ovarian cancer. Like many other symptoms, however, it is difficult to make the connection between the two initially. If a woman finds herself regularly skipping meals or being unable to finish favorite dishes, this could be an early sign of a medical issue. Early warning signs may include feeling full quickly when eating a meal and sensations of being unusually full or bloated afterward. Other conditions can cause these symptoms, but it's important to have them evaluated if they're persistent or of recent onset.



Ovarian cancer can create gas and impede the release of the same, causing abdominal bloating that creates an uncomfortable and sometimes painful sensations in the abdomen. If this problem persists for more than a week, consult with a physician. In the later stages of ovarian cancer, fluid can build up in the abdominal cavity. This can also cause bloating and abdominal distension.


Frequent Indigestion

As women grow older, they experience indigestion and gas more often. However, if one experiences heartburn, gas, indigestion, or an upset stomach with no link to food or other common factors, this could be a sign of a serious medical condition. While there are many possibilities besides ovarian cancer, it is best to rule out this potential cause.


Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain not attributable to an existing back condition or relevant activity can be a cause for concern. The back pain caused by ovarian cancer ranges from a dull ache to something akin to the pain of labor. This pain is most often due to tumor growth and the tumor compressing on other structures. It may also indicate the cancer is spreading outside of the ovaries.



Feeling a little fatigue from time to time is normal. However, if an individual is also losing weight for no apparent reason, it is important to speak to a doctor. The lethargy brought on by ovarian cancer will not improve with sleep. Fatigue is a common symptom of many cancers and other illnesses because the body is constantly fighting to eradicate the disease.


Pain During Sex

Another early warning symptom of ovarian cancer is pain during sexual intercourse. The intensity of the pain is related to the location and size of the tumor. The expanding ovarian tumor can cause intercourse to be uncomfortable, at best. It can also cause vaginal bleeding and sharp, shooting pains. Of course, many issues can cause pain or discomfort during sex; any prolonged discomfort should prompt a medical examination.



Constipation is a common sign of ovarian cancer. Because it is relatively frequent in the general population, this symptom is often overlooked initially. If constipation accompanies other symptoms, however, speak to a doctor. A growing ovarian tumor can cause constipation and diarrhea by placing pressure on the bowels.


Vaginal Bleeding

About one-quarter of documented ovarian cancer cases present with vaginal bleeding. Women may initially mistake this sign as spotting related to their period; spotting can also develop during menopause. Spotting after menopause should be evaluated by a physician to rule out ovarian cancer or other pelvic tumors. Bleeding between periods and spotting or bleeding after sexual intercourse also needs prompt medical attention.


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