Long-Term Ovarian Cancer Survivorship
Last updated: April 2023
If you have ovarian cancer, you may have had surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. Now, you may be wondering what the next steps in your cancer journey are.
Long-term ovarian cancer survivorship looks different for everyone. Here, we look at a few of the important parts of being an ovarian cancer survivor and what they mean for your future.
As you transition from treatment to survivorship, your doctor visit schedule will change. You will go from seeing your doctor every few days or weeks to every few months. Eventually, these visits may become less frequent. When you complete treatment, discuss your follow-up schedule with your oncologist.1
Every person will have a different appointment schedule. Your schedule will be based on your stage of cancer and the possibility that it will come back. Your oncologist may want to see you for a pelvic exam every 2 to 4 months for the first few years after treatment, and then every 3 to 6 months after that.1
Imaging and testing
Your imaging and testing schedule also will be based on your cancer stage and chances of recurrence. Your doctor may order MRIs, PET scans, or CT scans to make sure your cancer has not come back. These tests may be more frequent for the first few years after your treatment but become less frequent if you remain cancer-free.1
Some doctors may order blood tests to make sure your cancer has not come back. These tests look for hormones or tumor markers in the blood that can indicate that your cancer has returned.1
At first, some people who have had cancer find it unsettling to see their doctor less often. If you are having trouble adjusting to a reduced visit schedule, ask your oncologist about available counseling services. Group and individual counseling can help with the anxiety of adjusting to life after cancer treatment.1
Long-term effects of treatment
Cancer treatments can have long-term side effects. This is true of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and the medications you may take to keep your cancer from coming back. Most of the effects can be treated by your doctor, but sometimes these issues can be permanent.1-5
Effects of surgery
If you have had surgery to treat your ovarian cancer, you may deal with pain. If you had lymph nodes removed to diagnose or treat your ovarian cancer, you may be at risk for a type of swelling known as lymphedema. If you had your ovaries or uterus removed, you will also deal with infertility.2,3
Effects of chemotherapy
If you had chemotherapy to treat your ovarian cancer, you may experience some long-term effects. These effects can be quite varied.1-5
- Many people have long-lasting fatigue after chemo treatment. This can last for years after treatment.
- Some people have problems growing hair back after chemotherapy. This is called alopecia.
- Some people continue to experience abdominal discomfort, including pain and digestive issues.
- Some people have memory and concentration issues after chemotherapy. This is often called chemo brain.
- Some chemotherapies may cause tingling and numbness in your fingers and toes. This is called neuropathy, and it can be permanent.
- Some chemotherapies may cause long-term damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Your oncologist will be able to tell you if the chemotherapy you received put you at risk for organ damage.
Effects of other treatments
If you had radiation to treat your ovarian cancer, you may deal with pain at the site of the radiation. You also may have long-term effects to the area that was radiated, including damage to the organs in that area.3
If you are taking endocrine therapy to stop your body from producing hormones, you may have some side effects like hot flashes, loss of bone density, and decreased sex drive.2,3
Other long-term considerations
All cancer survivors have to deal with the possibility of cancer recurrence. For many people, this causes a lot of anxiety. The anxiety may be worse around milestones and scans – this is sometimes referred to as scanxiety. If you are having anxiety, talk to your oncologist about counselors that specialize in cancer survivors.1,2
It is important to know that people who have been treated for one type of cancer are at increased risk of being diagnosed with a second type of cancer. Make sure that you are continuing to get preventive cancer screenings like mammograms, skin checks, and colonoscopies.2-5
Have you heard of platinum-resistant ovarian cancer?