Can ovarian cancer cause weight gain?

Ovarian cancer begins when cells in the ovaries or the fallopian tubes start to grow in an uncontrolled way and eventually spread to other parts of the body. Unfortunately, people often only detect the disease in advanced stages, when it has spread and is harder to treat.

According to the American Cancer Society, doctors only detect some 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases in their early stages. However, around 94 percent of people live longer than 5 years after diagnosis when doctors detect cancer in its early stages.

In this article, we look at the connection between ovarian cancer and weight gain, treatment options, and tips for controlling weight.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer

People with ovarian cancer in the early stages may have no symptoms. Symptoms are more likely to appear when the cancer is in an advanced stage. However, symptoms can be unspecific and mistaken for those caused by other conditions.

Common signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • abdominal swelling or bloating
  • feeling quickly full when eating
  • abdominal or pelvic pain and discomfort
  • frequent and urgent need to urinate

Other signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • changes in bowel habits, such as constipation weight loss
  • unexplained fatigue
  • upset stomach
  • changes to menstruation, such as heavier or irregular bleeding

Surgery is the primary treatment for the majority of ovarian cancers. The extent of an operation will depend on how far cancer has spread and the person’s overall health.

If the cancer is in an early stage and has not spread beyond one ovary, a surgeon may remove the affected ovary and its fallopian tube.

If cancer affects both ovaries but has not spread beyond them, the surgeon will remove both ovaries and their fallopian tubes.

This localized surgery preserves the womb, so the person will still be able to become pregnant using frozen eggs or embryos.

If the cancer has spread or is likely to do so, the surgeon may carry out a total abdominal hysterectomy to remove both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the womb, and nearby lymph glands.

If the cancer is in advanced stages, the doctor may also recommend chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the cancer size.

Radiation therapy

This type of treatment uses high-energy X-rays or other forms of energy to kill cancer cells.

Doctors usually deliver radiation therapy using a machine outside the body, in a process known as external-beam radiation therapy.

They can also place radioactive material inside the body near the tumor in a procedure called brachytherapy.

Radiation therapy can treat areas where cancer has spread, either near the tumor or in organs elsewhere in the body.

If weight gain is a concern, people with ovarian cancer can take a few actions to fight back. These steps include:

  • adopting a low-calorie diet
  • restricting the amount of salt in food, as it may cause water retention
  • limiting the intake of high-sugar foods
  • preparing foods with low-fat, low-calorie cooking techniques, such as grilling and steaming
  • restricting food portion sizes
  • choosing poultry or fish over red meat
  • including beans, grains, and peas in the diet
  • favoring whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereals over refined grains
  • favoring brown instead of white rice
  • eating vegetables, greens, and whole fruit
  • avoiding fats, such as butter and mayonnaise, and choosing low-fat dairy products
  • reading food labels carefully, paying attention to calories
  • walking and exercising regularly, and including activities that help to relieve stress


People with ovarian cancer can seek advice from a registered dietitian, who their cancer care team can recommend. Dietitians should be able to suggest a healthful food plan with limited high-calorie foods that they design for the individual’s needs.

Members of a person’s cancer care team will also be able to make recommendations on what are appropriate levels of exercise.

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