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Ovarian cancer

Read about the issues that occur if you're being treated for ovarian cancer and advice to help you cope.

Recovering from surgery

Surgery to treat ovarian cancer is a major operation. It can take up to three months to fully recover.

You'll need to take things very easy for at least the first couple of weeks. Rest as much as possible and try to avoid spending too long on your feet.

You can start to gradually return to your normal activities in the following weeks, but be careful not to do too much too soon.

Your care team will let you know about anything you need to avoid while you recover. For example:

  • you'll probably need to take one to three months off work
  • you might not be able to drive for around a month
  • you may need to avoid strenuous lifting or heavy exercise for at least three months

A physiotherapist may help you come up with an exercise plan to help your recovery.

If both your ovaries have been removed and you haven't been through the menopause, you'll experience it after treatment.

Your doctor may suggest taking hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control any menopausal symptoms at least until you reach the natural age for the menopause (between 45 and 55).

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Follow up appointments

After your treatment has finished, you'll be invited for regular check-ups to see how you're doing.

These are usually every two to three months to begin with, but tend to become less frequent over time.

These appointments are a good chance to talk to your care team about any problems you're having or any questions you have.

It's quite common for ovarian cancer to come back within a few years of treatment finishing, so you may have regular blood tests and/or scans to check for this.

Tell your doctor as soon as possible if any of your symptoms return after treatment. Don't wait until your next appointment.

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Help and support

Dealing with cancer can be a huge challenge for you and your friends and family, both practically and emotionally.

Talking to someone about your feelings or problems can help. 

It may help to:

  • talk to your care team or GP – they may be able to arrange professional support such as counselling or therapy
  • speak to your friends and family – be open about how you feel and what they can do to help; don't feel shy about telling them you need some time to yourself if that's what you want
  • get in touch with a support group or charity – many organisations have helplines, online forums, and local support groups where you can meet up with other people in a similar situation to you

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Sex and fertility

Your sex life

Ovarian cancer can affect your sex life in several ways.

You'll probably be advised to avoid having sex for a few weeks after surgery so your wound has enough time to heal properly.

But even after your wound has healed, it's normal to not feel like having sex right away. It takes many women much longer to feel ready.

This may be because surgery has triggered the menopause, or it may just be a combination of the tiredness and the emotional stress associated with being diagnosed and treated for cancer.

Talk to your partner about how you feel and don't pressure yourself into having sex too soon. The "help and support" section above gives details of people and organisations to contact if you'd like to discuss the issue with someone.

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Fertility and pregnancy

For some women, treatment for ovarian cancer triggers an early menopause and means they're no longer able to have children.

Talk to your care team about this if it's a concern for you. It may be possible to have treatment that preserves your fertility if you still want to have children and the cancer hasn't spread to both ovaries.

If you do lose your fertility, it's normal to experience a sense of loss or grief. It can help to discuss your feelings with a partner, relative or close friend, or with your specialist nurse.

If your treatment involved chemotherapy and you're still able to have children, you'll usually be advised to avoid becoming pregnant for a couple of years in case the cancer comes back and you need further treatment.

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Money and benefits

If you have to reduce your working hours or stop working due to your cancer, you may find it difficult to cope financially.

If you have cancer or you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to financial support. For example:

  • if you have a job but can't work because of your illness, you're entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP) from your employer 
  • if you don't have a job and can't work because of your illness, you may be entitled to employment and support allowance (ESA)
  • if you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to carer's allowance  
  • free prescriptions – you can apply for an exemption certificate that gives you free prescriptions for all medications for five years; speak to your GP or cancer specialist about this

It's a good idea to find out as soon as possible what help is available to you. You may want to ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.

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If your cancer can't be cured

If nothing more can be done to treat your cancer, your care will focus on controlling your symptoms and helping you feel as comfortable as possible. This is called end of life or palliative care.

It also includes psychological, social and spiritual support for you and your family or carers.

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