Follow-up care for ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer behaves differently in each woman, and a standard follow-up schedule would not work for everyone. Women with ovarian cancer should talk to their doctor about a follow-up plan that suits their individual situation. Follow-up care is often shared among the cancer specialists (oncologists), gynecologist, surgeon and the family doctor.
After treatment has ended, new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away should be reported to the doctor without waiting for the next scheduled appointment. These may include:
- pain in the abdomen, pelvis or back
- swelling of the abdomen
- change in bowel habits
- weight loss
The chance of ovarian cancer recurring is greatest within 5 years, so close follow-up is needed during this time.
Follow-up after ovarian cancer treatment varies. Follow-up visits are usually scheduled:
- every 3 months for the first year after initial treatment
- every 4 months for the second and third years
- every 6 months for the fourth and fifth years
- then once a year
During a follow-up visit, the doctor usually asks questions about the side effects of treatment and how the woman is coping. The doctor may do a complete physical examination, including:
- a pelvic exam
- feeling the abdomen for swelling
- feeling the lymph nodes in the neck and groin
Tests may be ordered as part of follow-up or if the doctor suspects the cancer has come back (recurred).
- Tumour marker tests may be done to monitor the response to treatment. Rising levels of a tumour marker may mean that the cancer has recurred. The doctor may order tests for different tumour markers for different types of ovarian cancer:
- Blood chemistry tests may be done to show how well certain organs are functioning. They can also be used to find abnormalities that may mean the cancer has spread to certain organs.
- Complete blood count (CBC) may be done to check for anemia from long-term bleeding, especially if the ovarian cancer has spread to the small or large intestine (bowel).
- Imaging tests may be ordered to check response to treatment or investigate new symptoms:
If a recurrence is found during follow-up, the oncology team will assess the person with cancer to determine the best treatment options.