Ovarian cancer can cause vaginal discharge, but so can many other factors and conditions.
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.
The ovaries are in the pelvis on either side of the uterus, and they make specific hormones and produce eggs for reproduction. The fallopian tubes are a pair of long, slim tubes on each side of the uterus that eggs pass through from the ovaries to the uterus. The peritoneum is the lining around organs in the abdomen.
Ovarian cancer often causes symptoms
In this article, we look at whether ovarian cancer can cause vaginal discharge. We also discuss the characteristics of abnormal vaginal discharge and other symptoms of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer can cause vaginal discharge. However, several other factors can also cause this symptom, so a person should not assume they have ovarian cancer if they notice vaginal discharge.
Vaginal discharge is a common symptom of certain types of ovarian cancer, especially at the start of cancer, but not all. Epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type, rarely causes vaginal discharge or bleeding, but germ cell and stromal cancers can.
If cancer lacks oxygen, some cells may die off and infect the tumor, causing a foul-smelling vaginal discharge.
A person who experiences continuous discharge should speak to a doctor.
The vaginal discharge ovarian cancer can cause is often clear, white, or colored with blood.
Normal discharge is usually 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 is a mucus-like fluid that the small glands in the cervix and vagina secrete. 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.
A person’s discharge is typically normal if it is:
- without odor
- thick and sticky
- white or clear
- wet and slippery
Vaginal discharge may be a symptom of infection if it is:
- foul-smelling, such as with a fishy odor
- yellow, green, or frothy
- thick and white like cottage cheese
Besides certain types of ovarian cancer, various factors may cause abnormal vaginal discharge.
Factors that may cause abnormal vaginal discharge during childhood include:
- chemicals from soaps or bubble baths
- an infection resulting from bacteria from the digestive tract
- a foreign object, such as a toy or toilet paper, in the vagina
Factors that may cause abnormal vaginal discharge during adulthood include:
- infections such as bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, or a yeast infection
- sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia or gonorrhea
The growth of harmful bacteria may also result from a rise in acidity in the vagina, which kills protective bacteria called lactobacilli. This can occur because of vaginal infections due to:
- difficulty maintaining adequate hygiene
- using antibiotics
- frequent douching
- semen or menstrual blood
- a foreign object, such as a tampon
In rare cases, people may have fistulas or abnormal openings between the intestine and the genital tract. These can cause vaginal discharge, which may also contain stool.
Fistulas may result from:
According to the
- pressure or pain in the pelvic area
- pain the back or abdomen
- abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause
- feeling full too quickly
- a change in bathroom habits, such as frequently urinating or having constipation
Symptoms may also include:
- weight loss
- pain during vaginal sex
- difficulty breathing
- a buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- a buildup of fluid between the tissues that line the lungs and the chest
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.
Organizations that provide support for people with ovarian cancer include:
- The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
- Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance
- The National LGBT Cancer Project
Several organizations provide support specifically for People of Color with cancer, including:
Ovarian cancer may cause discharge that is often white or clear or that contains blood. This symptom is common 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 normal as part of a person’s menstrual cycle or indicate another issue, such as an infection. Abnormal discharge may be thick and lumpy, or frothy. It may be white, green, or yellow. Various factors could cause it, including:
- a yeast infection
- an STI
- an overgrowth of harmful bacteria
- difficulty maintaining adequate hygiene
Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- pelvic pain
- abnormal vaginal bleeding
- 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.