Ovarian cancer symptoms: Why 'silent killer' isn't so silent – 5 signs to get checked


Ovarian cancer affects more than 7,000 women in the UK each year, yet hundreds of these diagnoses come after the cancer has spread. Often associated with generic or no symptoms at all, ovarian cancer has become known as a ‘silent killer’. But experts say the symptoms aren’t so silent after all, and awareness is the first and most important step when it comes to an early diagnosis.

Why is ovarian cancer hard to diagnose?

Diagnosing ovarian cancer is notably difficult because symptoms can often be confused with other less serious illnesses.

Everything from menstrual cramps and ovarian cysts to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) share common symptoms with this type of cancer, leaving thousands of women undiagnosed until the later stages of this progressive disease.

According to the UK charity, Target Ovarian Cancer, the disease itself is not the ‘silent killer’, but the lack of awareness of symptoms is.

If diagnosed at the earliest stage, nine in 10 women will survive. But with two-thirds of women being diagnosed late, when the cancer is harder to treat, it’s crucial to spread awareness of the signs you could be looking out for.

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What are the common symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Tracking symptoms is key when it comes to spotting ovarian cancer early as it documents a clear timeline of the frequency and type of pain you experience.

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Persistent bloating – it doesn’t come and go
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain (in the tummy and below)
  • Urinary symptoms – urgency to urinate, urinating more often than usual

While these symptoms are usually nothing to worry about, they could be a sign of ovarian cancer if they are persistent and frequent.

If you experience any combination of these symptoms more than 12 times a month, Target Ovarian Cancer recommends visiting your GP.

How to make the most of your GP appointment

Investigating early symptoms is one of the best ways to catch an early diagnosis, though many women still struggle to get a correct result when visiting their GP.

According to Target Ovarian Cancer, almost half of women (45 percent) in the UK will wait three months or more from first visiting their GP to getting a correct diagnosis.

Over a quarter of women with ovarian cancer (27 percent) are diagnosed through an emergency presentation such as Accident and Emergency (A&E).

Cancer Research UK says making the most of your GP appointment is easily done by following these simple steps:

  • Write down your symptoms including when they started, where they happen and how often you experience them
  • Write down remedies that make symptoms feel worse or better
  • Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer
  • Flag any family history of cancer with your GP
  • Take a friend or relative for support
  • Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand
  • Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it could help

Survival rates for ovarian cancer

Despite greater awareness of symptoms making ovarian cancer easier to spot, the term ‘silent killer’ still rings true when it comes to surviving a diagnosis.

Data by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) from 2019 found that women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in England face an uncertain future.

Cancer Research UK explains: “More than 70 out of 100 women (more than 70 percent) will survive their cancer for one year or more after they are diagnosed.

“Almost 45 out of 100 women (almost 45 percent) will survive their cancer for five years or more.

“35 out of 100 women (35 percent) will survive their cancer for 10 years or more.”

While a number of factors will affect the outcome of a diagnosis, the stage at which the cancer is found is crucial to the survival of this life-changing disease.


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