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Knowing what to expect after your ovarian cancer surgery will help you to prepare – here’s what you need to know.
Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, affecting over 7,000 women every year and is often referred to as the silent cancer. For women with ovarian cancer, surgery is one of the main treatments used to remove the tumour and halt the spread of the disease.
Each woman’s treatment pathway is different depending on the type, stage and grade of her cancer. However, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy is often used to treat ovarian cancer1.
Surgery for ovarian cancer
Surgery to treat ovarian cancer is carried out by a gynaecological surgical oncologist. The operation can involve removing:
- The affected ovary and its fallopian tube
- Both ovaries and fallopian tubes and the uterus
- The omentum, which is a piece of tissue covering the intestines
- The appendix
This type of surgery is a major procedure and the exact details of your operation will be explained to you beforehand by your surgeon. There is also a small risk of complications after your operation, which your surgeon will also discuss with you.
After your surgery
When you come round from the general anaesthetic and wake up from your operation, you are likely to feel drowsy and you might not remember much about the first few hours. There will be medical staff on hand at all times and you should tell someone if you feel any pain or nausea, or any other symptoms. As soon as you’re fully awake, the ward staff will help you to get up and move about .
Your hospital stay
You will need to stay in hospital for up to a week after your surgery, to recover. Most women go home 3-7 days after their operation, but the length of time will depend on the type of surgery you have. You will be closely monitored in this time but you should be able to eat and drink normally, and move about. You will probably have your stitches removed after around seven days, and a nurse can do this at home if you’ve already left hospital2.
Your physical recovery
Your surgeon will see you for an appointment around two weeks after your operation, to explain the results of your surgery and discuss whether you need further treatment. This gives you the chance to ask questions about your recovery or how much activity you should be doing. You can also talk to your surgeon about any concerns you have.
You may need to have up to eight weeks off work, and for the first few weeks you should take it very easy.
This includes limiting the amount of time you spend on your feet and avoiding lifting anything heavy. A physiotherapist will give you a programme of gentle exercises to help your body recover3 but you are likely to feel weak and tired. You should avoid driving for at least a month after your surgery and you shouldn’t have sex for at least six weeks in order to let your body heal properly3.
Your emotional recovery
Having any kind of major surgery can make you feel vulnerable, and coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis at the same time can be very emotionally exhausting. You might feel that an important part of your body is missing, particularly if your uterus is removed. If you have both ovaries removed, this will immediately trigger the menopause. These changes to your body can feel like a lot to deal with, and some women find it changes the way they think about themselves sexually.
It’s a good idea to tell family and friends how you feel, so that they can support you. Your GP can also help to find you a counsellor or a support group who can help you recover emotionally from ovarian cancer surgery.
If you have questions about ovarian cancer and its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, you might find this Q&A with three leading specialists helpful.
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