Signs of Ovarian Cancer Recurrence

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2021

Once you have had a diagnosis of ovarian cancer (or any type of cancer), there is a chance of the cancer returning after treatment is complete. This is called recurrence.1

Successful treatment will destroy or completely remove all signs of ovarian cancer. However, cancer cells may remain in your body. There is still a possibility that the cancer may come back later on.1

Ovarian cancer can return anywhere in the body, but it most often comes back in the abdominal cavity.1

What are the risks of cancer coming back?

Research shows that cancer will return in about 70 percent of people diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A person’s stage at their initial ovarian cancer diagnosis can impact the chances of their cancer coming back:1

  • People diagnosed in stage I have a 10 percent chance of their cancer returning
  • People diagnosed in stage II have a 30 percent chance of their cancer returning
  • People diagnosed in stage III have a 70 to 90 percent chance of their cancer returning
  • People diagnosed in stage IV have a 90 to 95 percent chance of their cancer returning

Ovarian cancer that returns after treatment is rarely curable. However, it is treatable.1

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What are the typical symptoms of cancer that has returned?

Symptoms of cancer that has returned may vary. Some common symptoms include:2

If the cancer has spread to the bones, brain, or liver, there may be other symptoms as well.3

How do doctors find cancer that has returned?

People undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer or those who are in remission from ovarian cancer often get a blood test called a CA-125 test. This is a test that can be used to monitor CA-125. This is a protein that is produced on the surface of cells and released into the blood.4

More than 80 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer and 50 percent of those with early-stage ovarian cancer have high CA-125 levels.4

Other health conditions can also cause high CA-125 levels. This includes liver cirrhosis, pregnancy, endometriosis, diverticulitis, and uterine fibroids. This is why the test is often used to monitor people with ovarian cancer, rather than a diagnostic test.4

If your doctor finds that you have increased CA-125 levels, they will order more tests. This may include a CT scan or ultrasound of the abdomen and/or pelvis. These tests can show if your cancer has returned.3

What is the treatment for ovarian cancer that has come back?

The treatment plan for ovarian cancer that has returned often includes chemotherapy. Some women with ovarian cancer that has come back may have a second surgery followed by chemotherapy. Other forms of treatment may include hormonal therapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy.2

How well treatments like chemotherapy or targeted therapies work for ovarian cancer that has returned depends on many factors. This includes the kind of treatment used before, how long it has been since the last treatment, and the severity of the cancer.3

Things to consider

Having ovarian cancer return can be discouraging, but it is common. It is treatable, and there are a variety of treatments to choose from.

If your cancer comes back, talk to your doctor about the severity of the cancer. They can tell you what it means for your prognosis and health, and what your possible options are. You may also want to talk to your doctor about whether you can join a clinical trial as part of your treatment.

One important thing to keep in mind is balancing the course of treatment with your quality of life. This could mean talking with your doctor about treatment side effects, effectiveness, and recovery. Treatment for ovarian cancer that has returned varies from person to person. Making the choice that is right for you is the most important thing.