The early signs of Ovarian Cancer and how it's diagnosed

A quick summary:

About 20 women a day are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK.

That's about 7,000 a year.

What is Ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer refers to any cancerous growth that begins in the ovaries.

Ovarian cancer is most common in post-menopausal women, with 8 out of 10 cases of ovarian cancer occurring in women who are over 50 years of age. However, it can affect anyone with ovaries at any age.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often similar to other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

It’s important to know the early signs and symptoms so the disease can be identified in the early stages before it spreads.

The four main symptoms of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent stomach pain
  • Persistent bloating or increased stomach size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Unexplained change in bowel habits

Other symptoms can include back pain, needing to pass urine more frequently, feeling nauseous, extreme fatigue and unexplained weight loss.

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above, please arrange an appointment with your GP.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

If your GP thinks that your symptoms could be due to ovarian cancer, they'll recommend having a blood test to check for a substance called CA125.

If the blood test shows a high-level of CA125, you'll be referred for an ultrasound scan to check for possible causes. It’s important to note that raised CA125 level does not mean you definitely have cancer. It can also be caused by other conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids and even pregnancy.

If any abnormalities are found in your scan, you'll be referred to a specialist for further tests to confirm the cause.

Further testing may include:

  • CT scan – where several X-rays are taken from different angles to create a detailed image of your ovaries.
  • Needle biopsy – a needle is passed through your tummy to remove a sample of ovary cells or fluid from around the ovaries, so it can be checked for cancer.
  • Laparoscopy – a small cut is made in your tummy and a thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted, so your ovaries can be examined and a small tissue sample may also be removed for testing.

It’s important to remember that although smear tests are essential for detecting cervical cancer, they can’t identify ovarian cancer.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you.

Follow the links below for further advice:

Target Ovarian Cancer:

Support line: 020 7923 5475


Cancer Research UK: