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Living with advanced or recurrent ovarian cancer

Women discussing ovarian cancer

This page tells you about living with advanced ovarian cancer or ovarian cancer that has come back after treatment. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Living with advanced or recurrent ovarian cancer

Finding out that you have an advanced cancer when you are diagnosed or that your cancer has come back, can be devastating. At first, you are likely to have some powerful emotions.

If you have advanced ovarian cancer, it may not be possible to cure it. Advanced ovarian cancer means the cancer has spread from where it started in the ovary. When cancer comes back some time after it has been treated, it is called a recurrence. Even if your cancer can't be cured, there are treatments available that can slow it down and help control your symptoms. It may be possible to shrink the cancer and put it into remission for quite a while.

It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. If you haven't already been referred, ask your hospital doctor or GP about seeing a symptom control (or palliative care) nurse. They can help control your cancer symptoms and improve the quality of your life physically. Many have counselling training and can help you work through some of the emotions you are experiencing.

If you are having difficulties coping at home, your palliative care nurse or a district nurse can talk to you about ways you may cope more easily.
 

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

 

What is advanced ovarian cancer?

Advanced ovarian cancer means the cancer has spread from where it started in the ovary to other parts of the body. Ovarian cancer that is advanced when it is first diagnosed can sometimes be cured with surgery and chemotherapy, but this is not possible for many women. Even if your cancer can't be cured, treatment can slow your cancer down and help control your symptoms.

 

What is recurrent ovarian cancer?

Recurrent ovarian cancer is cancer that has come back some time after you were first treated. It is not usually possible to cure it, but treatment can control it - sometimes for many months or a few years.

 

Finding out your cancer is advanced or has come back

It can be devastating to find out that you have advanced cancer when you are diagnosed, or that your cancer has come back. You probably feel confused and find it difficult to take anything in that is being said to you.

At first, you are likely to have some powerful emotions. Anger, fear, and sadness may come one on top of the other, leaving you exhausted. You may think you should be talking all this through with your partner, other family members or close friends. But you may find this impossible to do.

Give yourself time to begin to come to terms with what you have been told. You may find it helpful to talk to other people about how you are feeling. But you may not feel able to do that straight away. Some people need to begin to put their own thoughts in order before they can talk to anyone else.

Some people feel they need to talk straight away. Trying to talk things through helps them sort out their own thoughts and feelings. There is no right or wrong way to handle this and you should do what feels best for you.

 

Treatment and symptom control

Treatment may cure some women with ovarian cancer that is advanced when it is first diagnosed. But for most women with advanced ovarian cancer, or cancer that has come back after treatment, it is not possible to cure it. Even if the cancer can't be cured, treatment can very often shrink it and control it (put it into remission) for quite a while. You will need to talk very carefully to your own specialist to understand

  • What the diagnosis means for you
  • What treatment is available
  • How treatment may help you

Knowing what to expect can help to reduce anxiety. Talk to your doctor or specialist gynaecology cancer nurse about your illness and treatment. It is important that you know all the options. There is more about treating advanced ovarian cancer in this section. There is information about coping with the emotional and practical aspects of advanced cancer in the dying with cancer section.

 

Coping with everyday life

You are likely to feel very anxious and uncertain about the future. And there will be days when the cancer is the only thing you can think about. But many people say that a diagnosis of advanced cancer helps them appreciate ordinary everyday things much more than they did. You have a chance to think about what is important to you and what isn't. There may be things you had always wanted to do. Having cancer doesn't mean you have to give up all your plans. You may have to adapt some and let go of one or two. But you may also feel it is time to get round to something you'd always wanted to do but never made the time for.

 

Getting help and support

It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. If you haven't already been referred, ask your hospital doctor or GP about seeing a symptom control nurse (also called palliative care nurses or Macmillan nurses). The nurse can help to control your cancer symptoms and improve the quality of your life physically. Many have counselling training and can help you work through some of the emotions you may have.

If you are having any physical difficulties in coping at home your symptom control nurse or a district nurse can talk to you about things that might help. They can help you to get simple equipment to help you move around, such as a seat to help you get in and out of the bath. And tell you how to get more permanent adaptations such as safety rails fitted in your bathroom.

Symptom control nurses also have information about charity grants for mobility aids, heating costs, help with holidays and many other household expenses related to your illness or quality of life. They will also be able to help you get information on the benefits available to you or find someone to help with caring for you at home.

Some ovarian cancer organisations give information about cancer and treatment. Or they can put you in touch with cancer support groups where you can talk to other people who have been through similar experiences to your own.

If you would like to talk to someone outside your own friends and family, look in our counselling section for information about counselling and how to find a counsellor.

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Updated: 21 January 2014