What Are the Early Warning Signs of Ovarian Cancer?

Medically Reviewed on 6/29/2021

Ovarian Cancer
Warning signs of ovarian cancer may include bloating, abdominal pain or swelling, feeling full quickly after a meal, and more.

Ovaries are small glands on each side of the uterus responsible for producing eggs as well as the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. In ovarian cancer, a mutation in the genetic material of ovarian cells leads to uncontrolled, abnormal cell growth.

Unfortunately, early-stage ovarian cancer often goes undetected because it rarely causes symptoms until cancer has already spread to other organs.

Warning signs of ovarian cancer may include:

Since many of these symptoms may also be caused by noncancerous diseases, it is best to consult your doctor to confirm a diagnosis. Your doctor will perform a thorough physical exam, sonography, blood test and, if required, a computed tomography (CT) scan to check for tumors in the ovaries.

What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer?

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Genes: Certain genetic conditions:
    • Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
    • Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome due to BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 gene mutation
    • Peutz–Jeghers syndrome
    • MUTYH-associated polyposis
  • History of cancer: Particularly a history of breast cancer, uterine cancer, or colorectal cancer.
  • Age: The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age.
  • Tobacco and alcohol: Smoking has been linked to a particular type of ovarian cancer, with studies showing that women who smoke are three times more likely to develop ovarian cancer. It is unclear whether alcohol consumption increases ovarian cancer risk, as the evidence is inconclusive.
  • Reproductive health: Women who start menstruating earlier (before 12 years of age), get menopause later (after 50 years of age), and/or undergo hormone replacement therapy.
  • Late pregnancy: Women who gave birth to their first child after the age of 35 or those who have never carried a pregnancy to term.
  • Fertility treatment: Fertility medications seem to increase the risk of a certain type of ovarian tumor.
  • Talcum powder: Studies show that talcum powder applied to the genital area or on sanitary napkins could potentially travel through the vagina, uterus, and fallopian tubes to the ovary and cause ovarian cancer.
  • Obesity: Obesity alters the hormonal balance of the body and is linked to many answers.
  • Co-existing health conditions: Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis increases the risk of ovarian cancer. Type II diabetes mellitus is also known to moderately increase ovarian cancer risk.

Of course, it’s important to remember that ovarian cancer may develop even in the absence of any risk factors. Similarly, the presence of one or more risk factors doesn’t mean that someone will definitely develop the condition. 

Procedures such as hysterectomy or uterus removal (with or without the removal of ovaries), birth control pills, and breastfeeding are known to reduce the risk of developing certain ovarian cancers.


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Medically Reviewed on 6/29/2021