Early symptoms of ovarian cancer may include: pain in the pelvis, the lower abdomen, or the lower part of the body, back pain, indigestion, feeling full rapidly when eating, more frequent and urgent urination, pain during sexual intercourse, and changes in bowel habits, such as constipation.
As the cancer progresses, there may also be nausea, weight loss, breathlessness, tiredness and loss of appetite.
Ovarian cancer happens when cells divide and multiply in an unregulated way. However, exactly why this happens is not clear.
The following risk factors are linked to a higher chance of developing the disease:
Women with close relatives who have had ovarian or breast cancer have a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, compared with other women.
Genetic screening can determine whether somebody carries certain genes that are associated with an increased risk.
Most cases of ovarian cancer occur after menopause, and especially in women aged over 63 years. It is rare before the age of 40 years.
Women who have had one or more full-term pregnancies, especially before the age of 26 years, have a lower risk. The more pregnancies they have, the lower the risk.
Breastfeeding may also decrease the risk.
Using the contraceptive pill for at least 3 to 6 months appears to reduce the risk. The longer the pill is used, the lower the risk appears to be.
Infertility or fertility treatment
Fertility drugs have been linked to a higher risk of ovarian cancer, especially in women who used them for more than one year without becoming pregnant. Those who are infertile may also have a higher risk than those who are not, possible due to not carrying a pregnancy.
Women who have received a diagnosis of breast cancer have a higher chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
HRT slightly increases a women's risk of developing ovarian cancer. The risk appears to increase the longer the HRT continues, and returns to normal as soon as treatment stops.
Obesity and Overweight
Obesity and overweight appear to increase the risk of developing many cancers. Ovarian cancer is more common in women with a body mass index (BMI) of over 30.
Having surgery on the reproductive organs appear to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
Women who develop endometriosis have an around 30 percent higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, compared with other women.
Symptoms may resemble those of other conditions, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or a temporary bladder problem.
The main difference between ovarian cancer and other possible disorders is the persistence and gradual worsening of symptoms.