Cervical and ovarian cancer both begin in the reproductive tract. They differ in various ways, including their symptoms, screening, and survival rates.

Keep reading to learn more about the differences and similarities between cervical and ovarian cancer.

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the term “female” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth.

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Cervical cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in the cervix. The cervix connects the vagina to the uterus, which is where a baby would grow during pregnancy.

Cervical cancer is most common in women over 30.


All forms of cancer are the result of genetic mutations, which trigger uncontrollable growth and the replication of cells in the body.

However, the primary cause of cervical cancer growth is a long-standing human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection.


According to the American Cancer Society, common signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can include:

  • atypical vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after sex or after menopause
  • pain during sex
  • pain around the pelvis
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • swelling in the legs
  • trouble urinating or passing stool
  • blood in the urine


Doctors typically screen for cervical cancer using a Pap or HPV test. The Pap test looks for cells that could become cancerous in the body, and the HPV test checks for HPV.

People who receive a positive screening result or who have symptoms of cervical cancer will likely visit a gynecologist for a confirmed diagnosis. The diagnosis will involve a medical history check and physical examination of the pelvis.

Additional tests performed may include colposcopies or biopsies.

If these tests indicate cervical cancer, a doctor may choose to order additional tests to check how far any tumors have spread, such as with MRI scans or cystoscopies.


The outlook for cervical cancer will depend on how far it has spread and other factors, such as the presence of other health problems.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 66%. This means that people will typically survive for at least 5 years after a cervical cancer diagnosis.

However, only 17% of people survive if the cancer spreads to distant body parts.

Ovarian cancer occurs when cancerous cells grow in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or peritoneum.

The ovaries are reproductive organs that produce eggs in females. Many cases of ovarian cancer can start in the fallopian tubes, which travel from the ovaries to the uterus.

Cancer may also start in the peritoneum, which is a thin tissue lining the organs and inner wall of the abdomen.


It is unclear what causes ovarian cancer, but researchers have developed several theories based on the current knowledge of its risk factors.

Inherited or acquired genetic changes cause cells to become cancerous. For example, genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2 have been linked to the risk of ovarian cancer.

Pregnancy and birth control lower the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Some researchers think that this suggests ovulation plays a role in causing ovarian cancer.

Another theory is that substances that cause cancer could enter the body through the uterus or fallopian tubes.


Some signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • bloating
  • pain in the stomach or pelvis
  • tiredness
  • difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • stomach pain and swelling
  • pain during sex
  • problems going to the bathroom, such as urgently or frequently needing to urinate
  • changes in the pattern or intensity of periods
  • weight loss


Anyone with signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer should contact a doctor for a checkup.

A doctor will check a person’s medical and family history for ovarian cancer risk factors. A doctor is likely to perform a pelvic examination to check for enlarged ovaries or fluid in the stomach.

If there are signs of cancer, a doctor will suggest additional tests that can include:

  • imaging, such as an MRI or ultrascans
  • blood tests, such as CA-125 tests
  • biopsies
  • genetic testing
  • colonoscopy or laproscopy


The outlook for ovarian cancer will depend on several factors, including early detection, tumor spread, and the person’s overall health. It will also vary by the type of ovarian cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, 49% of people with ovarian cancer survive for at least 5 years after their initial diagnosis.

Most people with localized and regional ovarian cancer survive at least 5 years. This is where the cancer has not spread or spreads close to the original site.

However, only 31% of people with distant ovarian cancer survive 5 years. This is where the cancer spreads to distant body parts.

The cervix connects to the ovaries, which means there can be some similarities between cervical and ovarian cancer. For example, both cancers can cause atypical vaginal bleeding and discharge.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) highlight several distinctive signs of ovarian cancer that are not common in cervical cancer:

  • feeling full unusally fast or difficulty eating
  • pressure on the pelvis
  • frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • stomach or back pain

Other key differences relate to causes and screening.

Cervical cancers are commonly the result of HPV infections, but the specific causes of ovarian cancer are currently unclear.

This makes screening for the HPV virus a good method of detecting possible cases of cervical cancer. Pap tests are another good screening tool for cervical cancer.

However, there are no reliable screening methods for ovarian cancer. People with symptoms of ovarian cancer may undergo transvaginal ultrasounds or CA-125 blood tests, which are uncommon in those without symptoms.

The survival rates for localized forms of these cancers are similar. The American Cancer Society estimates that 93–98% of people with ovarian cancer and 92% of people with cervical cancer survive for at least 5 years.

However, they estimate that only 17% of people with distant cervical cancer survive for at least 5 years, compared with 31–60% of people with distant ovarian cancer.

It is important to contact a doctor for any signs and symptoms of cervical or ovarian cancer. Early detection is a major factor in treatment success.

The CDC recommends that females begin regular screening for cervical cancer from age 21. However, there are no recommendations for regular screenings for ovarian cancer without symptoms.

Cervical and ovarian cancers are types of gynecological cancers. This is a group of cancer that begins in a female’s reproductive system but may spread throughout the body. Gynecological cancers include:

  • cervical cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • vaginal cancer
  • vulvar cancer

However, the most common cancers in women are breast, lung, and colorectal cancer. These account for around 50% of all cancer diagnoses in women.

Cervical and ovarian cancers start in the female reproductive systems and share some similarities. However, ovarian cancer causes several distinctive symptoms, such as feeling full too quickly and bloating.

The cause of ovarian cancer is still unclear, but many cases of cervical cancer are due to HPV infections. Screening for HPV or using a Pap test are good methods of detecting cervical cancer.

There are no reliable methods to screen for ovarian cancer in people without symptoms.

Both cancers have a good outlook when they are localized. However, fewer people survive with cervical cancer than with ovarian cancer after it has spread to distant body parts.