After a diagnosis of ovarian cancer
After finding out you have ovarian cancer, you may feel shocked, upset, anxious or confused. These are normal responses. It may be helpful to talk about your treatment options with your doctor, family and friends. Seek as much information as you feel you need. It is up to you how involved you want to be in making decisions about your treatment.
Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer in Australian women, with 1289 new cases diagnosed in 2016. The causes of ovarian cancer are not known. Diagnosing ovarian cancer can be difficult as symptoms are often vague and shared by many other common illnesses.
How is ovarian cancer treated?
You may have a number of different health care professionals involved in your treatment and care. The type of treatment you have will depend on the stage of the cancer and your general health. Although nearly all treatments have side-effects, most can be effectively managed. Ask your doctor to explain what side effects to expect and how best to manage them.
Surgery is usually the first treatment for ovarian cancer. This is called a laparotomy and the goal is to confirm the diagnosis, establish where the cancer has spread in early cases and remove as much of the tumour as possible in advanced cases.
This allows other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy to be more effective.
Chemotherapy uses a combination of drugs to help attack cancer cells and slow or stop their growth. Most women will be offered chemotherapy as part of their treatment, as it reduces the risk of the cancer returning.
Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer is usually given through a drip into a vein in your arm. Your gynaecological oncologist or medical oncologist will explain which chemotherapy drugs are recommended for your cancer. Their side-effects, how long you may need to take the chemotherapy drugs and where you can have chemotherapy will also be explained to you.
Radiation therapy (radiotherapy) uses x-rays to destroy cancer cells.
Only a minority of women with ovarian cancer will have radiation therapy. Your treatment team will discuss whether radiation therapy is recommended for you.
Radiation therapy can also be used to reduce the size of the cancer, relieve pain, discomfort or other symptoms.
Targeted therapy drugs can get inside cancer cells and block particular proteins that tell cancer cells to grow. Bevacizumab and Olaparib are two targeted therapy drugs while other drugs may be available through clinical trials.
What about my physical and emotional wellness?
Eating a healthy diet including a variety of foods will ensure you have what your body needs to cope with treatment and recovery. Be sure to discuss your diet with your dietician and doctor.
Regular physical activity can improve your cancer recovery and reduce side-effects such as fatigue. Talk to your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist and doctor.
- Don't be afraid to ask for professional and emotional support.
- Consider joining a cancer support group.
- Learn to ignore unwanted advice and "horror stories".
- Live day-to-day and remember that every day is likely to be different.
Complementary therapies can work alongside medical treatments and some have been shown to improve quality of life or reduce pain. There is no evidence that these therapies can cure or prevent cancer. Some of these therapies have not been tested for side effects, may work against other medical treatments and may be expensive. Let your doctor know about all complementary therapies you are thinking of using.
Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.
Other useful websites
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Cancer Council acknowledges the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre's contribution to this fact sheet.
Find out more information about ovarian cancer