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Gynecologic Oncology Program

Patient and Family Education

Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Unfortunately, the majority of women with ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until they have advanced disease. Although some women with early ovarian cancer have symptoms, more often women have no symptoms or very mild and nonspecific symptoms.

A woman should see a doctor if she experiences symptoms such as:

The symptoms may be indicative of a less serious problem, but it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. The chances of successful treatment for ovarian cancer are much better if the cancer is found early.

If cancer of the ovary has spread to the peritoneum (the sac inside the abdomen that holds the intestines, uterus, and ovaries), fluid may build up inside the peritoneum (called ascites) and a woman may experience swelling of the abdomen. If the cancer has spread to the diaphragm, the muscle under the lung that controls breathing, fluid may build up under the lungs and cause shortness of breath.

If a doctor suspects ovarian cancer, he or she may do a pelvic examination to check for any signs of tumors or abnormal tissue.Cancer may be difficult to feel, however, so the doctor will likely use imaging tests, such as computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and ultrasound to look for abnormal masses in the pelvic. The only way the doctor can confirm the presence of a cancer is to perform a biopsy, a surgical procedure to remove a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope.

The chance of recovery (prognosis) and choice of treatment for ovarian cancer depend on the patient's age and general state of health, the type and size of the tumor, and the stage of the cancer.


This page was last updated on: October 6, 2009.

For appointments, please call 410-328-2076, or 1-800-888-8823. If you are a physician and would like to refer a patient, please call our Physician OneCall line at 1-800-373-4111