Coping if your ovarian cancer can't be cured

The news that your doctor can’t cure you can be very hard for everyone. There is support available to help you cope with your emotions and any physical symptoms you have. 

Your outlook

Many people want to know what the outlook is and how their cancer will develop. Your cancer specialist is the best person to discuss this with.

Your specialist will tell you how advanced your cancer is (the stage). Advanced cancer means cancer that has spread outside the ovary. It might have spread within the pelvis or abdomen, or further away to other parts of the body such as the lungs. You might have advanced cancer at diagnosis, or the cancer may have come back after previous treatment.

It is sometimes possible to cure you if you have an advanced cancer at diagnosis. But this isn’t usually the case. This depends partly on the exact stage of your ovarian cancer. And also on what treatment you can have, and how well the treatment works.

Unfortunately, cancers that have come back can’t usually be cured. But treatment can often control the cancer and relieve symptoms. This can be for many months and sometimes years, depending on the situation.

Your doctors and nurses will help you to make the most of life and feel as good as possible for as long as possible.

How long will I live?

Not everyone wants to ask about this. But do ask your specialist doctor if you feel you need to. You can explain that you don‘t expect them to be completely accurate, but that you need to plan the time you have left.

Your doctor won’t be able to give you an exact answer. Everyone is different and no one can say exactly how long you will live.

Your doctor might be able to give you an estimated time, based on how long other people with your type and stage of cancer have lived. Remember that your doctor’s answer is an estimate. The actual time could be shorter or longer than they say.

For ovarian cancer, it will depend on many factors such as what treatment you’ve already had, what treatment you can have now, how well the treatment works, and your general health.

Treatment can often control the cancer and relieve symptoms. This can be for many months and sometimes years, depending on your situation.

But it might be a shorter time if you are very unwell, or you can’t have further treatment. You could find it extremely difficult if your doctors tell you that you only have a very short time left (for example, weeks). You might have to make some serious decisions based on this information.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to find out more about their cancer and the treatments they might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means

    • what is likely to happen

    • what treatment is available

    • how treatment can help you

    • what the side effects of the treatment are

    Talking about advanced cancer

    Your friends and relatives might be able to support you and talk to you about your cancer. Sharing can help to increase trust and support between you and make it easier to plan ahead. But some families are scared of the emotions this could bring up. So they may not want to discuss it. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation.

    It can strain relationships if your family or friends don't want to talk. You can help your family and friends by letting them know you would like to discuss what’s happening and how you feel.

    You might find it easier to talk to someone outside your own friends and family.

    Counselling might help you find ways of coping with your feelings and emotions. You can call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.


    Thinking about your priorities and planning what you want to do can help you to feel more in control. You might want to talk about how you want to spend your time and what is and isn’t important to you.

    Some of your future plans might no longer be realistic. But you might get round to doing something you always wanted to do but weren’t able to make time for.

    You can talk to your doctor about managing your treatment around your plans. Or if you can have your treatment at the same time. Your specialist nurse will be able to support you and help you arrange this.

    Physical symptoms

    As well as having to deal with a diagnosis of advanced cancer, the treatment and cancer can cause physical symptoms that can be difficult to cope with.

    For advanced ovarian cancer, treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or targeted therapy aim to:

    • shrink the cancer and control it for as long as possible
    • reduce symptoms
    • help you feel better

    It is important that you feel as well as you possibly can. Tell your doctor or nurse about any symptoms you have so they can help to control them.

    Coping financially

    You might have extra expenses due to the cancer. Your specialist nurse or GP can help you get grants for heating costs, holidays or household expenses related to your illness.

    Ask to see a social worker. They can let you know which benefits or grants you can claim and help with the claiming process.  

    Who can help?

    You can get emotional and practical support through your hospital, local hospice and GP surgery. You can also get help from charities and support groups.

    Towards the end of life

    It’s natural to want to find out what is likely to happen in the last few weeks or days of life.

    You might need to choose where you want to be looked after and who you want to care for you.

    You can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses if you have questions or want to talk about coping with advanced cancer. Call free on 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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