©2018 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved. eMedicineHealth does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See Additional Information.

Ovarian Cancer vs. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Symptoms and Signs

Ovarian Cancer vs IBS Irritable Bowel Syndrome Related Articles

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms vs. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Quick Comparison

  • Ovarian cancer is a disease in which ovarian and/or ovarian-related cells become abnormal and multiply causing tumor(s). Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, functional gastrointestinal disorder.
  • Ovarian cancer can spread to other organs and areas of the body (metastasize) while irritable bowel syndrome is not cancer and is occurs only in the digestive (gastrointestinal, GI) tract.
  • Ovarian cancer occurs usually in older women (age greater than 50 years) while irritable bowel syndrome can occur in men, women, and children.
  • Similarities between signs and symptoms in which ovarian cancer can mimic IBS include:
  • Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer that do not occur with IBS include:
  • Signs and symptoms of IBS that do not occur with ovarian cancer include:
    • Changes in the stool frequency and consistency
    • Passing mucus from the rectum
    • The feeling of being unable to empty the bowels
    • IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D)
    • IBS with constipation (IBS-C)
  • Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
    • Women over the age of 50
    • Family history of ceratin cancers, for example, breast cancer and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) and mutation in genes called BRCA 1 and BRCA 2.
    • Other risk factors for ovarian cancer may include no pregnancies, fertility drug use, European and/or Jewish heritage, exposure to asbestos, genital exposure to talcum powder, radiation exposure to the pelvic region, and possibly viral infections, for example, the mumps.
  • Risk factors for IBS include:
    • Hypersensitivity of the small intestine due to disruption of the nerve communication between the brain and digestive tract causing abdominal pain from gas or a full bowel.
    • Viral or bacterial infections of the stomach and intestines
    • Small intestinal bacterial overgrown (SIBO)
    • Hormones and/or neurotransmitters that are not balanced
  • Both ovarian cancer and irritable bowel syndrome are difficult to diagnose.
  • Ovarian cancer frequently is diagnosed in the later stages when the disease is more severe. For example, the survival rate for women diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer is about 39% 5 years after diagnosis, and about 17% with Stage IV.
  • IBS is not a life threatening condition, and in general, individuals with IBS have a relatively normal lifespan.

What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Ovarian cancer occurs when abnormal cells form causing tumor(s) in one or both of a woman's ovaries. As the tumor grows, the abnormal cells multiply forming malignant tumors, cancerous growths, or cancers. If the cancer is untreated, the abnormal cells spread to other organs and tissues (metastasize).

What Are the Types of Ovarian Cancer?

Epithelial tumors: These tumors arise from a layer of cells that line the ovary called the germinal epithelium. A majority of all ovarian cancers are epithelial. These are most common in women who have been through menopause (aged 45-70 years). These epithelial tumors are rarely found without at least some evidence of spread. Chemotherapy is used in addition to surgery to treat these cancers.

Stromal tumors: Stromal tumors develop from connective-tissue cells that help form the structure of the ovary and produce hormones. Usually, only one ovary is involved. These account for 5-10% of ovarian cancers. These tumors typically occur in women aged 40-60 years. Often, surgical removal of the tumor is the only treatment needed. If the tumor has spread, though, the woman needs chemotherapy.

Germ cell tumors: Tumors that arise from germ cells (cells that produce the egg) account for about 15% of all ovarian cancers. These tumors develop most often in young women (including teenaged girls). Although 90% of women with this type of cancer are successfully treated, many become permanently infertile.

Metastatic tumors: Only 5% of ovarian cancers have spread from other sites to the ovary. The most common sites from which they spread are the colon, breast, stomach, and pancreas.

Not all transformations or changes are "bad" or malignant. A benign transformation can produce tumors. Benign tumors can grow in place, but do not have the potential to spread. The ovaries can develop benign tumors, as well as malignant tumors or cancers. Noncancerous ovarian masses include abscesses or infections, fibroids, cysts, polycystic ovaries, endometriosis-related masses, ectopic pregnancies, and others.

What Is Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic, functional disorder of the gastrointestinal (GI, digestive) tract. There are two sub-types of irritable bowel syndrome, IBS-C or irritable bowel syndrome with constipation and IBS-D or irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea.

Which Ovarian Cancer vs. IBS Symptoms and Signs Are Different?

Ovarian Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Ovarian cancer is difficult to diagnose until late in the disease because often symptoms do not occur until the tumor has grown large enough to apply pressure to other organs in the abdomen, or until the cancer has spread to remote organs (metastasized). Moreover, ovarian cancer symptoms are similar to many diseases and conditions so often cancer is not the first problem considered to be causing symptoms.

The only early symptom of ovarian cancer can be irregular vaginal bleeding. Symptoms late in the disease include:

  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Abdominal swelling and bloating
  • Urinary frequency
  • Constipation
  • Ascites: Collection of fluid in the abdomen, contributing to abdominal distension and shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling full after eating little
  • Gas and/or diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abnormalities in menstruation, pubertal development, and abnormal hair growth (with tumors that secrete hormones)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome Symptoms and Signs

IBS affects each person differently. The hallmark of IBS in adults and children is abdominal discomfort or pain. Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Change in the stool frequency or consistency
  • Gassiness (flatulence)
  • Passing mucus from the rectum
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal distension
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal cramping and pain that are relieved with bowel movements
  • Alternating periods of diarrhea and constipation

Individuals who mostly have diarrhea as a symptom are considered to have IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D). Symptoms of IBS-D include:

  • Sudden urges to have bowel movements
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Intestinal gas (flatulence)
  • Loose stools
  • Frequent stools
  • Feeling of being unable to completely empty bowels
  • Nausea

Individuals who mostly have constipation as a symptom are considered to have IBS with constipation (IBS-C). Other symptoms of IBS-C include:

  • Hard, lumpy stools
  • Straining during bowel movements
  • Infrequent stools

Indigestion affects up to 70% of people with IBS, however, it is not a symptom of the condition.

Signs and symptoms that are not irritable bowel syndrome, but are of other serious diseases and conditions include:

If you have these symptoms or signs contact your doctor or other health-care professional for evaluation.


Digestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions See Slideshow

Who Gets Ovarian Cancer vs. IBS?

The incidence of ovarian cancer varies greatly.

  • Globally, Scandinavia, Israel, and North America have the highest rates. Developing countries and Japan have the lowest rates.
  • Some 14,240 women in the U.S. die each year from ovarian cancer.
  • The five-year survival rate is greater than 75% if diagnosis of the cancer occurs before it has spread to other organs. However, the five-year survival rate drops to 20% when the cancer has spread to the upper abdomen.
  • In the United States, about one in 56 women develops cancer of the ovary. About 22,280 new cases in the U.S. are diagnosed each year.

IBS is not contagious, inherited, or cancerous. It occurs more often in women than in men, and the onset occurs before the age of 35 in about half of the cases. IBS occurs in 5% to 20% of children.

When to Call the Doctor for Ovarian Cancer or IBS Symptoms

When to Call the Doctor for Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Go to the nearest hospital emergency department if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Abdominal pain with fever
  • Continuous vomiting or diarrhea (especially with blood)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding

If you are female 40 years of age or have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, these symptoms should be attributed to constipation or other conditions only after your health-care professional or doctor has ruled out the possibility of ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing abdominal pain, distension, or bloating that is not explained by simple constipation, or lactose intolerance contact your health-care professional for evaluation.

When to Call the Doctor for IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)

If you have any of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or if you have IBS and experience unusual symptoms, call your doctor for consultation. Go to a hospital emergency department if problems are severe and/or come on suddenly.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) Triggers

People with irritable bowel syndrome usually suffer from both diarrhea and constipation, and different foods are often implicated as triggers, for example, gluten, milk and diary products, foods that worsen constipation or diarrhea, and lack of exercise.

Reviewed on 1/22/2018
NIH. Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer-Patient Version.

Patient Comments & Reviews

  • Ovarian Cancer vs. IBS - Experience

    Please share your experience with ovarian cancer or irritable bowel syndrome. It may help others.

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Ovarian Cancer vs. IBS - Symptoms and Signs

    What symptoms and signs did/do you have with ovarian cancer or irritable bowel syndrome?