Understanding the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer

Did you know that over 7,000 cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year?

Although ovarian cancer is most common in post-menopausal women (usually over the age of 50), it can also affect younger women, as well as women with a family history, who may be at an increased genetic risk.


Early symptoms can be subtle, so it is important to be aware of key warning signs and discuss any concerns with your GP as soon as possible.

Here, Dr Sally Harris, a GP at The Wilmslow Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, shares the four key warning signs that women shouldn’t ignore.

1. Persistent bloating

Women often experience bloating, so as a symptom it can be one that is easily ignored. However, persistent bloating that does not come and go should always be discussed with your GP.

Bloating is often put down to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), however, this doesn’t usually present in women in their late 40’s or 50’s, so it is important to rule out ovarian cancer before a diagnosis of IBS can be confirmed.  

2. Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain

Any pain should always be discussed with your GP. Whilst not always a sign of cancer, it is important address any underlying causes. Persistent pelvic and abdominal pain, which can also present as lower back pain, can be a key warning sign of ovarian cancer and it’s important to flag this.

3. Feeling full quickly

Unexplained changes to appetite, such as feeling full quickly or not being able to finish a meal, can be an indication of an underlying health condition. It is important that you contact your GP if you experience these symptoms which can also be accompanied by unexplained weight loss – as this is one of the early warning signs of ovarian cancer. I often wonder if this symptom presents late, because as women, comments about weight loss are almost always perceived as a compliment. But it really is vital to discuss any unexplained weight loss or changes to your appetite with your GP as soon as possible.

4.Unexplained changes in bowel habit and an increased need to urinate

Any changes in bowel habits should be discussed with your GP - this includes unexplained diarrhoea (loose stools) or constipation (difficulty in passing stools). The need to urinate more often or an increased urgency to urinate (feeling like you can’t hold on) should also be raised. Some people may feel uncomfortable discussing these symptoms, but as GPs it is something we hear about often and can be key to helping establish a diagnosis of underlying causes.

If you are experiencing symptoms

If you are experiencing any new or worrying symptoms, please do not delay in seeking medical advice. It may not be anything serious, but the sooner ovarian cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. Ovarian cancer symptoms are not always easy to recognise because they can be similar to more common, less serious conditions. But if you have any of the symptoms above, or any other symptoms which aren’t normal for you, make sure you visit a GP as soon as possible.

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