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Does ovarian cancer grow more slowly in a 90 year old?

I was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer 18 months ago. I am 90 - will the cancer grow more slowly because I am older? What can I expect to happen in the near future?

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible for us to tell you what will happen in the future. It is also difficult for your doctors, but they have much more information about your condition, so are in a better position to try to answer your questions.

Generally the outlook for anyone with cancer is related to the stage and grade of their cancer. The stage is how far a cancer has grown and spread. And the grade is the appearance of the cancer cells under a microscope.  This gives the doctor an idea of how fast a cancer is likely to grow.

Being older does not necessarily mean that cancer will develop more slowly, although this may happen. Your age does not necessarily stop you having treatment either. Researchers and doctors have developed newer chemotherapy drugs that are easier to manage. There are also better treatments than there used to be for side effects, such as sickness. Do talk to your cancer specialist, who can give you more information.

If your cancer starts to grow, it could cause symptoms. Advanced ovarian cancer can sometimes press on the bowel. This may cause constipation. Occasionally, in ovarian cancer it can cause a blockage in the bowel. If you do become constipated, or feel bloated and full, have stomach pains or vomiting, do get in touch with your doctor straight away.

You might find that you develop some fluid in your abdomen. This can also make you feel bloated and full. As the fluid collects, it causes a swollen abdomen and this is what some women notice first. This fluid is called ascites (pronounced as-sight-eez). It can be drained off at intervals. Do tell your doctor if you notice that your abdomen is becoming swollen so that they can give appropriate treatment. Just having the fluid drained off can make you more comfortable.

Sometimes cancer can press on the lymph vessels in the pelvis. Lymph vessels are part of the lymphatic system. They are tubes that carry the clear fluid, lymph, through the body. So pressure on these vessels can block the flow of lymph and this might cause some swelling in your legs. Again, do tell your doctor or nurse if you notice this.

It is very difficult to predict exactly how things may develop for you. We are sorry that we can't be more specific. You may have a specialist gynaecology cancer nurse who can help to answer your questions. Or your doctor may refer you to a nurse who specialises in helping to control the symptoms of disease. They are called symptom control nurses or palliative care nurses. They can help you with managing symptoms, coping with daily living and also with financial help. There are grants and Government benefits that you may qualify for. You may also want to talk to your specialist or GP about your concerns.

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Updated: 30 January 2014