Ovarian cancer can cause vaginal discharge, but so can many other factors and conditions. It is not usually one of the common symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, discharge resulting from ovarian cancer may appear clear, white, or colored with blood.

Ovarian cancer is a group of diseases that originate in the ovaries or related areas of the fallopian tubes and peritoneum and cause abnormal cells in the body to grow out of control.

Unusual bleeding or discharge is not a common symptom of the most widespread types of ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer often causes symptoms such as constipation, bloating, and abdominal, back, or pelvic pain. The vaginal discharge associated with ovarian cancer is most common in stromal or germ cell tumors.

Ovarian cancer treatment is more effective when a doctor diagnoses it in the early stages.

This article looks at whether ovarian cancer can cause vaginal discharge, the characteristics of abnormal vaginal discharge, and other symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Vaginal discharge may signal certain types of ovarian cancer, especially at the start of cancer, but it is not common. Epithelial cancer, which is the most common type, does not typically cause vaginal discharge or bleeding. However, stromal or germ cell tumors, which are rare types of ovarian cancer, may cause some vaginal discharge.

Vaginal discharge is common to various conditions and due to many factors, so a person should not assume they have ovarian cancer if they experience it.

A person who experiences continuous discharge should speak to a doctor.

Learn more about vaginal discharge.

Typically, vaginal discharge is milky white or thin and clear and typically has no odor. It may also be clear or brown at different stages of a person’s menstrual cycle.

Vaginal discharge due to ovarian cancer is typically clear, white, or tinted red from blood.

What does ovarian cancer discharge smell like?

Epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common type of ovarian cancer. If the cancer lacks oxygen and some of the cancer cells die off and infect the tumor, it may cause a foul-smelling discharge.

Learn more about what the color of vaginal discharge might mean.

Vaginal discharge is a mucus-like fluid secreted by small glands in the cervix and vagina. This fluid leaks from the vagina daily to remove debris and old cells, keeping the vagina and reproductive tract clean.

The amount, color, and consistency of vaginal discharge can vary from one person to another.

Typical discharge is:

  • odorless
  • sticky and thick
  • clear or white
  • slippery and wet

If a person has an infection, the discharge may:

  • have a fishy odor
  • be yellow, green, or frothy
  • have a thick, white cottage cheese-like appearance

An infection may also cause blood in the discharge, pelvic pain, or blisters and sores.

Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge

Besides certain types of ovarian cancer, various factors may cause abnormal vaginal discharge.

Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge in children include:

  • chemicals and additives in bath bubbles and other wash products
  • a bacterial infection from the digestive tract
  • a foreign object in the vagina, such as a small toy

Causes of abnormal vaginal discharge in adults include:

Harmful bacteria may also grow when increased acidity levels in the vagina kill protective bacteria called lactobacilli. Vaginal infections may develop due to:

  • difficulties maintaining hygiene
  • antibiotic use
  • douching too frequently
  • semen or menstrual blood
  • having diabetes
  • pregnancy
  • a foreign object, such as a tampon, left in the vagina

Some people may have fistulas, which are abnormal openings between the intestine and the genital tract. These can lead to vaginal discharge, which sometimes contains feces.

Certain conditions can cause fistulas to develop, including:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

Symptoms may also include:

Learn more about early and advanced symptoms of ovarian cancer.

People who have symptoms of ovarian cancer, abnormal discharge, or both should immediately contact a doctor.

If a person has a yeast infection or thrush and no other symptoms of infection or ovarian cancer, they do not have to contact a doctor every time they experience discharge. This type of discharge is usually thick, white, and clumpy. Yeast infections may also cause itching and burning.

If a person consults a doctor about vaginal discharge, the doctor may ask some questions regarding:

  • the smell and look of the discharge
  • if other symptoms are present, such as itching
  • whether a person has pain during sex or urination or constant pain in the pelvis
  • whether discharge occurs during menstruation or sex
  • if the person uses any products that may irritate the vaginal area
  • whether the person is taking antibiotics
  • whether the person has diabetes

A doctor may also do a physical examination of the pelvis and other tests, such as inserting a cotton swab into the vagina or cervix to get a sample of the discharge. They will then examine the discharge and send a sample to the lab.

People seeking ovarian cancer support can call the American Cancer Society’s cancer helpline at 800-227-2345, chat with them online, or find local programs or services.

Organizations that provide support for people with ovarian cancer include:

Several organizations provide support specifically for People of Color with cancer, including:

Ovarian cancer may cause discharge that is white or clear or that contains blood, but it is not usually a common symptom. This symptom is possible among certain types of ovarian cancer, but not all. The most common type of ovarian cancer rarely has vaginal discharge or bleeding.

Discharge may be a usual part of a person’s menstrual cycle or indicate another issue, such as an infection. Abnormal discharge may be thick, lumpy, or frothy. It may be white, green, or yellow. Various factors could cause it, including a yeast infection and pregnancy.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include pelvic pain, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and changes to bathroom habits.

A person should contact a doctor if they have abnormal vaginal discharge, ovarian cancer symptoms, or both. A doctor will likely ask questions, perform a pelvic exam, and test the discharge.