World Ovarian Cancer Day: Watch out for these 10 common signs of ovarian cancer


Ovarian cancer is a cancer that begins in the female reproductive organs that produce eggs, known as the ovaries. While ovarian cancer is treatable through surgery and chemotherapy, it ranks as the eighth most prevalent cancer in women and the eighteenth most common cancer overall. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International, there were over 3,13,000 new cases worldwide in 2020. Someone who has ovarian cancer may experience many complications, including abdominal swelling, an upset stomach, pelvic pain, urinary frequency, and weight changes (either gain or loss).

Since it is easy to get confused with the signs of ovarian cancer that appear as regular abdomen-related problems, you should be aware of them. Before that, first understand the causes of ovarian cancer.

What causes ovarian cancer?

“The exact cause of ovarian cancer is not fully understood, but several risk factors have been identified that can put you at risk of developing ovarian cancer,” says Dr Sumana Banerjee, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology. Here are some most common causes of ovarian cancer:

  • Women above the age of 50
  • A family history of ovarian or breast cancer
  • Never having been pregnant
  • Starting menstruation at an early age
  • Undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Medical conditions such as endometriosis
  • Smoking
  • Using talcum powder

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer

These are the 10 most common signs of ovarian cancer that you should know:

1. Abdominal or pelvic pain

The most frequently recognised ovarian cancer symptoms are pelvic and abdominal pain, according to Cancer Medicine. Many women with ovarian cancer say pain was one of the first symptoms they experienced. The pain can be persistent and often described as a dull ache or pressure that can be constant or come and go.

Abdominal pain is common in ovarian cancer! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

2. Bloating

Bloating is another noticeable sign of advanced ovarian cancer. “Due to a buildup of fluid (ascites), it can cause the abdomen to swell or become bloated,” explains Dr Banerjee. This bloating may be persistent and not related to eating or menstruation. However, note that bloating can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as gastrointestinal issues.

Also read: Debunking 7 myths around ovarian cancer

3. Unexplained weight loss

Significant and unexplained weight loss, particularly if accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain or bloating, may be a sign of ovarian cancer. Weight loss can occur due to a combination of factors, including loss of appetite and changes in metabolism.

4. Changes in bowel habits

Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation, diarrhoea, or changes in the size or shape of stools, can occur in women with ovarian cancer, according to a study published by JAMA Network. These changes may be caused by a tumour pressing on the intestines or interfering with normal bowel function.

5. Fatigue

While in the early stages, ovarian cancer may not cause any significant symptoms, one may experience fatigue. You may feel extreme tiredness or lack of energy that is not relieved by rest and this can even take a toll on your body’s immune response to cancer.

Also read: Ovarian cancer 101: Why early detection makes all the difference?

6. Back pain

A common symptom of ovarian cancer that can be easily neglected is back pain. “Pain in the lower back or pelvic area can occur in women with ovarian cancer, especially if the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs,” says the expert. This pain may be persistent and worsen over time.

Woman having back pain
Ovarian cancer may cause back pain. Image courtesy: Freepik

7. Frequent or urgent urination

The Clinical and Translational Oncology notes frequent or urgent urination as one of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Dr Banerjee explains, “It can put pressure on the bladder, which can result in an increased frequency of urination or a sudden urge to urinate.” However, frequent urination can also be a sign of urinary tract infection (UTI) that can be easily treated with antibiotics.

8. Loss of appetite

A study published in the National Library of Medicine reveals that some women with ovarian cancer may experience a loss of appetite or feel full quickly when eating, even if they have not eaten much. This sensation, known as early satiety, can occur due to the presence of a tumour pressing on the stomach or intestine.

9. Vaginal discharge or abnormal bleeding

Ovarian cancer can affect vaginal discharge or cause abnormal bleeding by disrupting the hormonal balance in the body, according to a study published in BMC Cancer. Tumours in the ovaries can produce hormones that stimulate the lining of the uterus, leading to irregular or abnormal bleeding.

Also read: Common cancers that are affecting women

10. Changes in the menstrual cycle

Ovarian cancer can cause changes in the menstrual cycle, such as irregular periods, abnormal bleeding, or postmenopausal bleeding in women. These changes may be due to hormonal imbalances caused by ovarian cancer or the presence of a tumour in the ovaries.

causes of light period
A change in menstrual flow could be because of ovarian cancer. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

If you think you have these symptoms, immediately consult with your healthcare provider to diagnose the cause behind the symptoms.

Treatment for ovarian cancer

Although ovarian cancer is prevalent among women, it is a treatable condition. Its treatment typically involves surgery, which may include the removal of one or both ovaries or in more severe cases, both ovaries and the uterus. Additionally, chemotherapy is an option that involves employing drugs to kill fast-growing cells in the body, including cancer cells. Moreover, targeted therapies that include drugs to identify and attack cancer cells are also used to treat ovarian cancer.

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