Most ovarian cancer symptoms are similar to those of other health conditions, so they are described as “silent” or “vague” symptoms. Ovarian cancer also shares common symptoms with other gynecologic cancers, which can make diagnosis difficult. Only around 15 percent of ovarian cancer cases are diagnosed in the early stages (stage 1 or 2). However, when ovarian cancer is caught early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 92 percent.
Ovarian cancer is caused by uncontrolled cell growth and division in the ovaries. The three main types of ovarian cancer are epithelial ovarian cancer, germ cell ovarian cancer, and stromal ovarian cancer.
Some ovarian cancer symptoms, like abdominal bloating, pelvic pain, indigestion, and fatigue, may overlap with symptoms of other, noncancerous diseases. However, in cases of ovarian cancer, these symptoms will be more persistent and change over time. For example, they may become more severe or occur more often. Trying unsuccessfully to treat these symptoms with changes in diet, exercise, or medication may also point to a more serious problem. If you have symptoms more than 12 times a month, it is a good idea to see your doctor.
Keep in mind that each person will experience symptoms differently. Listen to your body, and when you feel that something is wrong, speak with your doctor about your concerns. They will likely conduct a pelvic exam and may send you for further testing.
Read more about diagnosing ovarian cancer.
Epithelial and germ cell ovarian cancer do not show the same symptoms as stromal cell ovarian cancer. Epithelial ovarian cancer involves the cells covering the outside of the ovaries while ovarian germ cell cancer arises from egg cells in the ovaries. Surface epithelial tumors are the most common and dangerous, because 70 percent of women are not diagnosed until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. Symptoms often go unrecognized until the cancer has spread to other organs surrounding the ovaries.
Pelvic symptoms of ovarian cancer are generally concentrated in the lower abdominal area, but they can be mistaken as symptoms of another condition or disease. These include:
Stromal cell ovarian tumors are rare, making up only 1.2 percent of all malignant ovarian tumors. Stromal cell ovarian cancer is often found early and has a 75 percent survival rate.
Unlike other types of ovarian tumors, stromal cell tumors often involve hormone production — which may result in early puberty or menstrual changes. These symptoms typically present in teenagers and young adults.
Symptoms of stromal cell ovarian tumors include:
If you have been diagnosed with Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, you are at a higher risk of developing certain types of stromal cell ovarian cancer, due to your genetics.
Ovarian cysts are a collection of fluid inside the ovary. Functional cysts develop normally during ovulation (egg release) and will eventually go away on their own. Some women may experience pain with ovarian cysts that requires treatment and monitoring. This pain may feel like ovarian cancer pain, but cysts are mostly benign.
Sometimes the presence of ovarian cysts may be concerning. In cases where a woman is not ovulating (has not started her period yet or is past menopause), a doctor may want to run some tests. Larger cysts that do not go away on their own over the course of a few months are also a reason for concern.
Oftentimes, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the side effects of treatment. Common treatments for ovarian cancer include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted inhibitors, and occasionally radiation therapy. Some side effects you can expect from ovarian cancer treatment include:
Symptoms of ovarian cancer and side effects from treatment will likely be different for everyone, depending on a number of factors. Let your doctor know if you are experiencing any new symptoms or side effects, so they can be addressed in a timely manner.
Read more about treatments for ovarian cancer.
Certain factors put you at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. If you have any of these risk factors and have symptoms of ovarian cancer, speak with your doctor about your concerns. Risk factors include:
Read more about causes of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Condition Guide