Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Peritoneal Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

Ovarian/fallopian tube cancer can be hard to find in its earliest stages. That’s because the symptoms are often vague until these diseases are advanced. However, early-stage ovarian/fallopian tube cancer versus advanced-stage ovarian/fallopian tube cancer is not just a factor of delayed diagnosis but also of biology. Most stage I ovarian/fallopian tube cancers (see Stages and Grades) are clear cell, endometrioid, and mucinous with only a small percent being high-grade serous cancers (HGSC). Most advanced-stage ovarian cancers, however, are HGSC.

It is rare for people with advanced-stage ovarian/fallopian tube cancer to not have any symptoms or signs. However, it’s also important to note that these symptoms are not specific to ovarian/fallopian tube cancer and may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer.

People with ovarian/fallopian tube cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body. Signs are changes in something measured, like by taking your blood pressure or doing a lab test. Together, symptoms and signs can help describe a medical problem. Symptoms and signs for ovarian/fallopian tube cancer may include:

  • Abdominal bloating

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain

  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

  • Urinary symptoms, such as urgency or frequency

  • Fatigue

  • Upset stomach

  • Indigestion

  • Back pain

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • Constipation

  • Menstrual irregularities

  • Swelling in the pelvis or abdomen

  • Vaginal discharge, which may be clear, white, or tinged with blood

For many people, these symptoms can be caused by reasons not related to ovarian cancer, and they may occur often. However, it is important for a person to acknowledge these symptoms if they begin and are different from what is normal for their bodies. People who have any of the symptoms listed above every day for more than a few weeks should see their primary care doctor or a gynecologist. A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in treating diseases of the female reproductive organs. Early medical evaluation may help find cancer at the earliest possible stage of the disease, when it is easier to treat successfully.

Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis.

If the doctor diagnoses cancer, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. Managing symptoms may also be called "palliative care" or "supportive care." It is often started soon after diagnosis and is continued throughout treatment. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.