Know the symptoms of ovarian cancer

Cancer of the ovary affects around 7,000 women a year in the UK. Knowing the signs could help you seek advice early, when treatment is more likely to be effective.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, but the average GP sees only one case of ovarian cancer every five years. The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, particularly after the menopause.

Cervical screening tests (sometimes known as smear tests) do not help detect ovarian cancer.


If ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the outcome is good. However, because some of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to those of more common conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose.

Most women are not diagnosed until the disease has spread. It's important to know about the symptoms, so that you can get advice as early as possible.

Signs to look out for

Ovarian cancer was once known as a "silent" disease, because its symptoms can be vague. Evidence now shows that any of the following three symptoms, if they occur on most days may suggest ovarian cancer:

  • persistent pelvic and abdominal pain
  • increased abdominal size or persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
  • difficulty eating, and feeling full quickly

Some of the UK’s leading cancer charities, scientists and doctors agree that these symptoms are more frequent in women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Occasionally, women may also experience other symptoms, such as urinary symptoms, changes in bowel habit, extreme fatigue or back pain, on their own or at the same time as those listed above. These symptoms are unlikely to be ovarian cancer, but may be present in some women with the disease.

Getting a check up

If you regularly experience any of these symptoms and they're not normal for you, see your GP. It's unlikely that your symptoms are caused by a serious problem, but it's important to be checked.

Tell the GP if there are two or more cases of ovarian or breast cancer in your close family, as ovarian cancer can sometimes run in families.

If you have already visited your GP and the symptoms continue or get worse, it's important to go back to your GP and explain this. You know your body better than anyone.

Remember, ovarian cancer is not common and early diagnosis may save lives.

The information here has been produced in conjunction with:

British Gynaecological Cancer Society
Cancer Research UK
Department of Health
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust
The Eve Appeal
Kent and Medway Cancer Network
National Forum of Gynaecological Oncology Nurses
National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence
Royal College of General Practitioners
Ovarian Cancer Action
Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Target Ovarian Cancer
UCL Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Institute for Women's Health

Find out more about:

treating ovarian cancer

preventing ovarian cancer

living with ovarian cancer


Ovarian cancer

Andy Nordin, a gynaecological oncologist, explains the symptoms of ovarian cancer, who’s most at risk and the treatment options.

Media last reviewed: 21/02/2013

Next review due: 21/02/2015

Page last reviewed: 09/05/2012

Next review due: 09/05/2014


How helpful is this page?

Average rating

Based on 131 ratings

All ratings

Add your rating


Tools promotion

BEAT ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer symptom checker

Take the BEAT test to check for signs of ovarian cancer

Women's health 18-39

Healthy living advice for women aged 18-39 including real stories, fitness, diet, fertility and sexual health

Women's health 60-plus

Healthy lifestyle information and advice for women aged 60 and over

Women's health 40-60

Healthy living advice for women aged 40 to 60. Includes real stories on losing weight and alcohol dangers