Removing abdominal fluid

You might have a build up of fluid in your tummy (abdomen). Your doctor may take a sample of the fluid to check for cancer cells. If you have a lot of fluid, your doctor may drain some of it to relieve the pressure and make you more comfortable.

You usually have this as a day case in the outpatient department.

A swollen abdomen

Ovarian cancer can cause a build up of fluid in your tummy (abdomen). This is called ascites. It can be a sign that your ovarian cancer has spread. It can also be caused by other conditions that are not cancer.

Your specialist will want to take a sample of fluid to check for cancer cells.

What happens

You usually have this test as a day case in the outpatients department. 

First, you have a local anaesthetic injection into the skin of your abdomen. Once the skin is numb, your doctor puts in a needle to draw out some of the fluid. They send this sample to the laboratory to be checked for cancer cells.

If you have a lot of fluid, your doctor may want to drain it to relieve pressure in your abdomen and make you more comfortable. This is called an abdominal tap or abdominal paracentesis (para-sent-ee-sis).

Diagram showing fluid (ascites) being drained from the abdomen

Possible problems

Low blood pressure

Your blood pressure may drop and make you feel ill if the fluid drains too quickly. Your nurses will check your blood pressure and pulse regularly.

Pain and discomfort

Your nurse can give you painkillers if you need them. They can also help you change your position to make you comfortable.

Your doctor might need to put the tube in more than one place if the fluid is in different areas. If the fluid is in lots of different pockets this is called loculated ascites. This may mean there are too many pockets of fluid for the doctors to be able to drain.

Infection (peritonitis)

Infections aren’t common. If you get one, you have antibiotics as tablets or through a drip.

Tube blockage

The tube might stop draining. Changing your position or sitting upright can sometimes get rid of the blockage. If not, your doctor might need to replace the tube.

Fluid leak after taking the tube out 

You have a dressing to absorb fluid. If there is a lot of fluid leaking from the drain site you may have a collection bag instead of a dressing. You might need to have stitches put in if the wound still leaks after a couple of days.

  • Ovarian cancer: recognition and initial management

    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines [CG122], April 2011

  • Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up

    J Ledermann and others; ESMO Guidelines Working Group

    Annals of Oncology. 2013 Oct;24 Suppl 6:vi24-32

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures. 9th Edition

    Doughty L and Lister S (Eds) 

    Wiley Blackwell, 2015

  • Principles and practice of oncology (11th edition)
    V De Vita and others
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2018

Last reviewed: 
06 Jan 2022
Next review due: 
06 Jan 2025

Related links