Ovarian Cancer Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Can ovarian cancer be found early?

Finding the cancer early improves the chances that it can be treated with success, but only about 1 in 5 ovarian cancers are found at an early stage. About 9 out of 10 women treated for early ovarian cancer will live longer than 5 years after the cancer is found. It isn’t clear how best to find ovarian cancer in its earliest stage.


Screening tests and exams are used to find a disease such as cancer in people who don’t have any symptoms. Women with a very high risk of ovarian cancer (such as those with a strong family history of the disease) may be screened with ultrasound and with a certain blood test. But studies of women at average risk of ovarian cancer show that these tests did not lower the number of deaths caused by ovarian cancer. For this reason, these tests are not used to look for ovarian cancer in women who aren’t high risk.

Ways to help find ovarian cancer early

Regular women’s health exams

During a pelvic exam the doctor will feel the woman’s organs to check their size and shape. But most ovarian tumors are hard to find early because the ovaries are deep within the body and it isn’t easy for the doctor to feel them. The Pap test helps to find cervical cancer early, but it is not really useful for finding ovarian cancer early.

See a doctor if you have symptoms

Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include swelling or bloating, pain in the belly, trouble eating, and bladder symptoms (feeling as if you have to go often or always feeling as if you have to go).

These symptoms are most often caused by something besides ovarian cancer. Sometimes when ovarian cancer is the cause, the symptoms are more severe, but that isn’t always true. What is most important is that they are a change from how a woman usually feels.

Still, early cancers of the ovaries often cause no symptoms.

Last Medical Review: 04/22/2013
Last Revised: 02/06/2014