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What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

June 29, 2010

Most women get some symptoms in the early stages of ovarian cancer but they’re not always picked up. That’s because they are quite common symptoms that are usually a sign of something else. So ovarian cancer isn’t usually found until it has spread, which makes it harder to cure.

You won’t be able to tell whether your symptoms are caused by cancer or by something harmless (such as indigestion). So you need to get them checked out by your doctor, even though there’s a good chance nothing’s wrong.
The symptom most strongly associated with ovarian cancer is an enlarged abdomen (called abdominal distension). This means your abdomen gets bigger and doesn’t get smaller again. Some women call this bloating, although bloating usually comes and goes, for example if you have gas. If you have an enlarged abdomen, you may notice your clothes getting tighter round the waist. But it’s not about getting fat around your middle, but about the area below the fat getting larger.
A recent good quality study found that out of every 100 women who went to their family doctor with an enlarged abdomen, 2 or 3 would have ovarian cancer.  So it’s really important to see your doctor if you have this symptom.


Hamilton W, Peters T, Bankhead C, et al.
Risk of ovarian cancer in women with symptoms in primary care: population based case-control study.
BMJ. 2009; 339: 2998.

Here are some other symptoms you should get checked out:
· Bloating in your abdomen
· Feeling full soon after you start eating
· Losing weight without trying
· Feeling sick to the stomach, or getting indigestion
· Having a pain in your pelvis (the part of your abdomen between your hips)
· Having to urinate more often than usual
· Having backache
· Getting swollen ankles
· Having a lump in your abdomen
· Bleeding from your vagina in between periods or after

When a woman stops having periods, it is called menopause. This usually happens around the age of 50.
(This can also be a sign of other types of cancer. You should always get unusual bleeding checked out.)
You should tell your doctor if your symptoms:
· Happen for more than a few days
· Happen without a clear reason
· Get worse (most harmless symptoms get better over a few days)
· Happen at the same time
· Are new to you (for example, if you’ve never had bloating before and you suddenly get it and it doesn’t go away).


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