Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Due to a lack of noticeable early symptoms, ovarian cancer is often called a “silent killer.” Only after the disease has spread out of the ovary do specific ovarian cancer symptoms develop. In the early stages of the disease, vague symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and indigestion may be dismissed or misdiagnosed as other, less serious conditions, such as the “flu.”

Fatigue, Nausea and Other Early Stage Symptoms

Initial ovarian cancer symptoms may feel similar to those of an intestinal flu or some other minor illness. Persistent discomfort or pain should be reported to your doctor. Watch for the following symptoms:

  • abdominal pain
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • fatigue
  • feeling full after light meals
  • frequent urination
  • indigestion
  • a loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • unexplained weight gain
  • unexplained weight loss
  • vomiting.

Rare Symptoms: Severe Abdominal Pain and Vaginal Bleeding

Severe abdominal pain may indicate that an ovarian tumor has rotated, causing a condition known as torsion. The ovary becomes twisted during torsion, cutting off blood flow and causing sudden and severe abdominal pain. Torsion is an uncommon event. When it does occur, the resulting abdominal pain is very similar to pain caused by appendicitis.

Vaginal bleeding is a common symptom of cervical cancer and endometrial cancer. Although an ovarian tumor can cause vaginal bleeding, the symptom is rare. More often, bleeding indicates some other condition.

Advanced Ovarian Cancer Indicators: Anemia and Ascites

Female Reproductive SystemAs ovarian cancer progresses, it spreads from the ovaries into the pelvic cavity and abdomen. At this point, symptoms become more specific and the chances of diagnosis increase. Unfortunately, at such advanced stages the prognosis for ovarian cancer is poor: five-year survival rates for women diagnosed at this point are only twenty to thirty percent.

The following conditions may develop as a result of advanced stage ovarian cancer:

  • anemia: abnormally low red blood cell levels
  • ascites: abdominal swelling caused by an accumulation of fluid in the abdominal cavity
  • cachexia: a combination of malnutrition, weakness and weight loss
  • pelvic pain: pain in the pelvic region; may also occur in the back or down the legs
  • voiding problems: frequent urination or a feeling of pressure on the bladder or bowel.

Germ Cell and Stromal Tumors

In addition to the symptoms listed above, other situations may arise from the less common ovarian cancers: germ cell and stromal cancers. These two rare forms of ovarian cancer may be associated with irregular menstruation, hyperthyroidism and the development of male secondary sex characteristics, such as a hoarse voice and facial hair.


Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. (nd). About ovarian cancer: Symptoms. Retrieved May 29, 2003, from www.ovariancancer.org/general.