Symptoms and Diagnosis

In this section we’re going to take a look at:

Remember, everyone is different and your symptoms and experience may be different from that described below. If you have any further questions, be sure to ask your medical professional.


Ovarian cancer can often be difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms are similar to those associated with other common disorders.

The most frequent signs of ovarian cancer are:

  • Persistent pain in the abdomen (beneath the stomach) or pelvis
  • Persistent bloating in the abdomen
  • Difficulty eating and feeling full quickly.

Other common signs may include a change in bowel habits (either constipation or diarrhoea), a need to pass urine more often, back pain and unexplained tiredness.

These symptoms may not necessarily indicate that you have ovarian cancer. This is the reason to see your doctor for further investigation.

A Diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer

A diagnosis of ovarian cancer usually begins with a visit to your GP to check out your symptoms. Your GP is likely to begin by performing a vaginal examination to check for any unusual lumps or swellings.

This is usually followed by a range of other tests to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. These could include:

  • Blood tests
    A blood test can measure the level of the protein CA-125 in your blood stream. This will not give a definite diagnosis of ovarian cancer, but women with the disease tend to have higher levels of this protein in their blood stream than other women.
  • Imaging tests
    These are tests which allow your doctor to see whether there are any cysts or tumours on the ovaries. There are a number of scans you could have including:
    • A transvaginal ultrasound in which a probe is inserted into the vagina
    • A CT scan or computerised x-ray
    • An MRI scan.
  • Biopsy
    The only way to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is to perform a biopsy. This involves a small operation to take a sample of tissue from your ovary or ovaries. This tissue is then examined under the microscope to see whether there are cancerous cells present.
    Depending on how things look during the biopsy, the surgeon may carry on and remove as much cancerous tissue as possible during the operation.

Stage and Grade of Ovarian Cancer

The results of your biopsy will be used to determine what grade and stage of ovarian cancer you have.

The “grade” of cancer is simply a measure of how different the cancer cells are compared with normal cells.

There are three grades of ovarian cancer:



Grade 1

The cells are still quite similar to normal ovarian cells and are slow growing.

Grade 2

The cells are slightly different to normal ovarian cells and are faster growing.

Grade 3

The cells are very different to normal ovarian cells and are fast growing and more likely to spread.

You will also be told what “stage” of cancer you have. The staging of cancer is simply a way of determining how far the cancer has spread. There are four stages of ovarian cancer and these are:



Stage I

The cancer is limited to one or both ovaries.

Stage II

The cancer has spread to other nearby organs such as the fallopian tubes, uterus, bladder or bowel.

Stage III

The cancer cells have spread to the lining of the abdomen (omentum), the intestines or to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer remains contained within the abdomen.

Stage IV

(Metastatic or Secondary)

This is often called metastatic or secondary ovarian cancer and means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs and liver.

Try not to worry about the stage and grade of cancer you have. There are treatment options available for every stage and grade. Your doctor will make treatment decisions based on the grade of cancer you have, the size and location of the tumour and your general health.