Because epithelial ovarian cancers begin deep in the pelvis, they often do not cause any symptoms until they are at an advanced stage. Furthermore, many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer are hard to differentiate from symptoms experienced by women who do not have ovarian cancer, such as back pain, fatigue, abdominal bloating, constipation, vague abdominal pain, and urinary symptoms.  Because of the lack of specificity of early ovarian cancer symptoms the majority of women (roughly 70%) already have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis.1,2,3 Ovarian cancer is often originally suspected in women when their physician finds an abnormal pelvic growth during an internal pelvic examination. Ovarian cancer may spread to the lining of the abdominal cavity and lead to the buildup of fluid inside the abdomen, called ascites.

Symptoms and signs of ovarian cancer most commonly include the following:

  • Back pain
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Constipation
  • Vague abdominal pain
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Irregular bowel movements

Risk factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get colon cancer and not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer, it simply means that you are at greater risk than normal to develop the cancer.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include the following:

  • Having a family history of breast or ovarian cancer in a first degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with breast cancer gene mutations, referred to as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  • Having inherited changes in certain genes associated with familial colon cancer and polyposis syndromes.
    • Lynch syndrome
  • Having a personal history of previous colon, rectal, or ovarian cancer.
  • Older age is also a risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases’ as you get older


1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2017.

2 Chobanian N, Dietrich CS. Ovarian Cancer. Surgical Clinics of North America. 2008; 88:285-99, vi.


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