Cao Ang was the first son of Cao Cao and his concubine Lady Liu (劉夫人). Lady Liu also bore Cao Cao another son, Cao Shuo (曹鑠), and a daughter, Princess Qinghe (清河公主). However, as Lady Liu died early, Cao Ang was raised by Cao Cao's first official spouse, Lady Ding (丁夫人), who treated Cao Ang as though he was her real son.
Nothing was recorded in history about Cao Ang's early life, except that he was nominated as a xiaolian (civil service candidate) when he reached the age of adulthood (around 19 years old). In February or March 197, Cao Ang followed his father on a campaign against the warlord Zhang Xiu in Wan (宛; or Wancheng, in present-day Wancheng District, Nanyang, Henan). Zhang Xiu surrendered initially, but rebelled later, launched a surprise attack on Cao Cao and caught him completely off guard. Cao Cao was injured in the right arm by a stray arrow during the battle while his horse, Jueying (絕影), was hit in the neck and leg. Cao Ang could not ride on horseback so he offered his own steed to his father, who managed to escape from Wancheng. Cao Ang died in the battle.