Although completing ovarian cancer treatment is a significant event on your road to recovery, you may still need time to heal, physically and emotionally. It can take time to establish a regular routine and get comfortable with your new life after cancer treatment. Whether you want to reclaim the life you once knew or redefine it, keep in mind that it's essential to proceed at your own pace.
Knowing what to expect in the days, months, and years following treatment may help make the transition from cancer patient to ovarian cancer survivor a little easier. If you recently completed treatment for ovarian cancer, you may recognize some of the following concerns commonly expressed by ovarian cancer survivors.
Concerns Following Ovarian Cancer Treatment:
- Questions about follow-up appointments
- Concerns about protecting your future health
- Questions about future fertility
- Questions about the need for genetic testing
- Concerns about cancer recurrence or second cancer
Adjusting to Life After Ovarian Cancer Treatment
After ovarian cancer treatment, many women grapple with concerns about fertility. Some wonder if ovarian cancer is hereditary and could be passed on to their daughters. If you've recently completed treatment, you may have questions about a considerable number of cancer-related topics, including any combination of the following concerns.
1. What to Expect During Follow-Up Appointments
You will likely be asked to schedule frequent follow-up visits with your gynecologic oncologist. During these visits, your doctor may ask questions about your general health and recommend further examinations or scans to screen for signs of recurring cancer or treatment side effects. Follow-up appointments for ovarian cancer often include specific blood tests to screen for factors suggesting the presence of tumor growth. Your doctor may also recommend other cancer screening options, which may include CT scans, an MRI and/or a PET scan.
According to the American Cancer Society, your specialist will likely recommend follow-up examinations every 2-4 months for the first few years after completing ovarian cancer treatment. After the first few years you will likely be asked to return for follow-up appointments every 3-6 months to watch for recurrence, evaluate you for long-term side effects and screening for other types of cancer.
It's important to go to your scheduled follow-up sessions, even if you feel fine and previous appointments proved uneventful. If you experience any new or recurrent symptoms, you should always report them to your cancer care team, even if they seem insignificant. However, don’t wait for your next appointment to do that. Call their office and ask to speak with your cancer care team.
2. Reclaiming and Protecting Your Health
After treatment, you may still experience a significant amount of fatigue as your body recovers. You may also find you have lost a considerable amount of muscle strength or range of motion, the ability to flex and extend your joints. Your specialist may recommend an exercise regimen or rehabilitation program to help rebuild your strength and agility.
As your body heals, you will want to consider the benefits of making a healthy lifestyle your top priority. You may find yourself motivated to make significant lifestyle changes you would not have considered before your diagnosis. To protect your future health, consider the value of the following suggestions:
- Adopt a healthy eating plan
- Commit to exercising several days each week
- Give up unhealthy vices, including tobacco and excessive alcohol use
- Look for meaningful ways to alleviate stress; try yoga, meditation, or another relaxing hobby
Read our cancer survivorship section to learn more about nutrition and exercise for cancer survivors.
3. Addressing Concerns About Future Fertility
Concerns about future fertility can add a significant amount of stress to the lives of women who hope to expand their families after surviving cancer. Although ovarian cancer treatment can affect fertility, many women do conceive after treatment.
If you had one ovary removed, the remaining ovary could continue to release eggs, meaning you can still get pregnant. If you are hoping to conceive, your gynecologic oncologist can help you determine if your body is ready. When cancer treatment requires the removal of both ovaries, it is still possible to conceive through in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
When cancer treatment requires a hysterectomy, pregnancy is no longer an option. For many women, the realization that they will no longer be able to conceive is particularly traumatic. Talk to your specialist about any difficulties you encounter coping with your loss. Your physician can recommend a counselor or support group in your area to help you connect with others who understand how you feel.
4. Considering the Options for Genetic Testing
The majority of ovarian cancers are not caused by genetic mutations. However, a woman's lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer is significantly higher than the general population if she has a particular mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. When these genes mutate, they inhibit the repair of DNA damage. That means damaged cells are more at risk of developing additional genetic mutations that can cause cancer.
Genetic testing can provide beneficial information to you and your family members who may also be at a higher risk if the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation is present. Knowing the genetic variations that run in your family could help other family members detect cancer in its early stages. Learn more about who should get genetic testing for cancer. Early detection improves the likelihood of a better treatment result.
5. Concerns About Recurrence and Second Cancers
Completing cancer treatment can be exciting. It can also be stressful. Although you are likely relieved to be finished with your treatment, it's natural to worry about the possibility of recurrence. You may also be worried about developing other types of cancer.
There is a possibility that ovarian cancer can return. Even if you've had your ovaries removed, the cancer can appear in other areas of your body. That's why it's essential to maintain a consistent follow-up schedule. If you were to have a recurrence, it's important to keep in mind that women with recurrent ovarian cancer have a considerable number of treatment options, including medications to slow disease progression. The number of people who develop a second unrelated cancer after ovarian cancer treatment is relatively small. Most ovarian cancer survivors move forward after treatment to lead happy, healthy, full lives.
After completing ovarian cancer treatment, you may need time to heal, recover, and adjust to your new life as a cancer survivor. The support of your family, friends, and cancer care team can help make the transition to life after cancer treatment easier. Be sure to reach out for any support you may need.
For personalized, compassionate cancer care in southeast Virginia and eastern North Carolina, contact Virginia Oncology Associates. Virginia Oncology Associates specialize in the treatment of cancer and blood disorders, clinical research, and patient support during and after treatment. Our cancer centers are located in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Hampton, Williamsburg, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina.