Living with cancer blog

Living with ovarian cancer

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. September 7, 2013

Women living with ovarian cancer may have a unique and extensive treatment and survivorship journey.

Ovarian cancer is called a "silent killer" because the symptoms are hard to detect and the cancer is many times diagnosed at a late stage. It can occur in adult women at any age.

Symptoms such as pelvic or abdominal pain, bloating and bowel/bladder changes aren't unique to ovarian cancer and don't always raise concern. Persistent daily symptoms noticed for more than 2-3 weeks should be checked out. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances are for cure.

Depending on the stage of ovarian cancer, surgery can be limited or extensive. Extensive surgery removes both the ovaries, fallopian tubes and many times also the uterus, cervix and lymph nodes in the area. Some women need to have cytoreduction or debulking surgery to remove cancer from other tissues and organs (may include the small intestine, colon, spleen and diaphragm).

A short recovery period is followed by weeks or months of chemotherapy. Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy may also be given to women with stage III or IV cancer. With IP chemotherapy, medications are injected directly into the abdominal cavity. Large doses of chemotherapy are delivered directly to the tumor location with the goal of providing better control of the cancer and a longer survival.

Recurrence is common with ovarian cancer, which means that close followup evaluations and monitoring are important. This may include a pelvic exam, X-rays, CT or MRI scans as well as blood tests to monitor the tumor marker CA-125. Recurrence may also mean undergoing treatment with chemotherapy each time a recurrence is detected. A clinical trial can be an option for treatment. It's not uncommon to ask for a second opinion regarding treatment recommendations.

If you're a woman living with recurrent ovarian cancer, you have unique needs. Living with uncertainty may be the most difficult aspect of survivorship.

You may find support by trying these strategies:

  • Talk with other ovarian cancer survivors.
  • Explore mind-body techniques to deal with stress and anxiety — such as meditation, yoga and exercise.
  • Learn the physical signs of recurrence — including pelvic pain, bloating, changes in bowel or bladder function, lack of energy and back pain — keep a symptom journal to track any changes.
  • Take time for yourself — focus on healthy choices in areas of your life you can control.

For more information on support, research and resources, check out additional information from Mayo Clinic (, the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition ( and the Ovarian Cancer Alliance (


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Sept. 07, 2013