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Recovering from ovarian cancer surgery

Women discussing ovarian cancer

This page is about recovering from ovarian cancer surgery. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Recovering from ovarian cancer surgery

It takes time to recover physically and emotionally from cancer surgery. This is particularly true if you have had your womb and ovaries removed. When you go home from hospital, be prepared to take it very easy for the first couple of weeks. You should be able to start driving again anytime from a month after your surgery. But this is very individual. Do talk to your surgeon (gynaecological oncologist) about your recovery period. And don't feel you should be back to normal if you don't feel like it. You should check your car insurance policy before you drive as some companies will not insure drivers for a number of weeks after surgery.

If you have not yet had your menopause and you have both ovaries removed, your treatment will bring on an early menopause. This can cause symptoms such as hot flushes, sweats, dry skin and dry vagina, tiredness, feeling emotional, anxiety and loss of confidence. These menopause symptoms may be quite intense because your ovaries have been suddenly removed, rather than you going into menopause naturally over a longer period of time. If you are finding the symptoms difficult to cope with, talk to your specialist or gynaecology cancer nurse.

After a hysterectomy, you will no longer be able to become pregnant. And you won't have any more periods. Even if you were past your menopause before the surgery, losing your womb can be a very emotional experience. Many women find this more of a shock than they expected.

There is more about how cancer treatment can affect your sexuality and your sex life in the sex and cancer section.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the living with ovarian cancer section.

 

 

Recovering physically

It takes time to recover physically and emotionally from cancer surgery. This is particularly true if you have had your womb and ovaries removed, although most of the information in this section also applies to the other operations you can have for ovarian cancer.

When you go home from hospital, be prepared to take it very easy for the first couple of weeks at least. You should spend most of your time resting with your feet up and avoid standing for more than a few minutes at a time.

For the first 6 weeks after your surgery, you can gradually build up the activity that you would normally do until you are more or less back to normal. But be aware that you will probably still get tired very easily. Do talk to your surgeon (gynaecological oncologist) about your recovery period if you have any queries or concerns about how much activity you should be doing.

Driving

Before you go home from the hospital, talk to your surgeon about when to start driving again.  You should be able to start driving again anytime from a month after your surgery. But this is very individual. Don't feel you should be back to normal if you don't feel that you are. Some women feel very tired and have difficulty concentrating for a couple of months after surgery. You may also be having other cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which may slow your recovery down. See how you feel and take things at your own pace.

You should check your car insurance policy before you drive. Some insurance companies will not cover drivers for a number of weeks after surgery.

 

Your sex life

Sex can feel different after ovarian cancer surgery. Your vagina may be a bit shorter. But it is naturally very stretchy so this shouldn't make too much difference to you and your partner. But remember that having your womb removed means that you will have stitches at the top of your vagina where your cervix was taken out. So you shouldn't have sex until these have healed. This takes about 3 or 4 weeks.  

But you may find that you don't feel ready to start being sexually active again that soon. It takes many women much longer than that. You may still have a bit of discomfort, so prefer to wait a bit longer.  And you will need to recover emotionally as well as physically. You may feel that your womb was an important part of your body and having had it taken away can affect how you feel about yourself sexually. You will no longer be able to become pregnant. And you won't have any more periods. Even if you were past your menopause before the surgery, losing your womb can be a very emotional experience. Many women find this more of a shock than they expected.

There is more about how cancer treatment can affect your sexuality and your sex life in the section about sex and cancer.

 

Recovering emotionally

A diagnosis of cancer takes time to come to terms with. Having major surgery as well may make you feel very vulnerable. You are also likely to feel weak at first and to get tired very easily. This may make you feel quite down. Try to take comfort from the fact that this is a completely normal reaction to what has happened to you. Virtually everyone (if not everyone) who has a hysterectomy for cancer will feel the same. Your family and friends will need to be understanding and supportive while you come to terms with what has happened to you. But sometimes that is not enough.

Give yourself time. If you feel your recovery is taking longer than it should, you may want to talk to your GP about finding a counsellor or support group of other women who have been through a similar experience.

If you would like to find out about counselling and support groups in your area contact one of the organisations that provide a counselling service. They will be happy to help. Talking to someone outside your circle of family and friends about how you are feeling can help you to feel better.

 

Sudden menopause

If you have not yet had your menopause and you have both ovaries removed you will go into menopause following your surgery. This can cause symptoms such as

  • Hot flushes
  • Sweats
  • Dry skin and dry vagina
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling emotional
  • Anxiety and loss of confidence

These menopause symptoms may be quite intense because your ovaries have been suddenly removed, so your hormone levels fall quite quickly. The effects can go on for a few months. It is impossible to predict how long you will have these symptoms. It varies too much between women. After the menopause, your bones may become thinner and more fragile. Your doctor may encourage you to have plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet, or they may suggest taking vitamin D and calcium supplements to help.

Some women find menopausal symptoms very difficult to cope with. If you do, you can talk to your specialist or gynaecology cancer nurse about this. Some women may be able to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for the symptoms of early menopause, but your doctor will discuss the possible risks and benefits with you first. The section about sex and cancer for women has some ways to control menopausal symptoms. There is also information about hormone symptoms in the coping physically section. 

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Updated: 21 January 2014