Ovarian cancer

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Side effects of surgery for ovarian cancer

Side effects can occur with any type of treatment for ovarian cancer, but not everyone has them or experiences them in the same way. Side effects of surgery will depend mainly on the:

  • type of surgery
  • woman’s overall health

Side effects can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after surgery. Most side effects go away after surgery. Late side effects can occur months or years after surgery. Some side effects may last a long time or be permanent.

It is important to report side effects to the healthcare team.


Pain often occurs because of trauma to the tissue during surgery. Pain-relieving medicines are used to control pain. It may take time for pain to go away after surgery, depending on the procedure done and how you heal or tolerate pain. Check with your doctor if pain doesn’t go away or pain medicines do not relieve the pain.

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Bladder problems

Sometimes people have trouble urinating after surgery (urinary retention). This occurs because of certain drugs that may be used for anesthesia or pain control. For a short time right after surgery, the healthcare team will monitor when and how much the woman urinates. If the woman can’t urinate, a catheter may be placed to drain the bladder until the woman regains bladder control.

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Bowel problems

Bowel habits usually return to normal after surgery for ovarian cancer. However, the rectum can become irritated and part of the large intestine or small intestine can become narrowed (called a stricture) or scar-tissue can form, which can cause a blockage (bowel obstruction). A combination of treatments may be used for bowel problems, including no food or fluids by mouth, giving intravenous fluids and placing a nasogastric tube. Bowel problems can sometimes last a long time.

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Bleeding or hemorrhage can occur if blood vessels are not sealed off completely during surgery, or if the woman has a blood clotting disorder. Nursing staff check bandages and drains often for more or heavy bleeding right after surgery. If bleeding occurs and is severe enough, the surgeon may have to take the woman back to the operating room to find where bleeding is coming from and to stop it.

A small amount of bloody drainage may be expected after surgery. Report heavy bleeding or an increase in bleeding to your doctor or the healthcare team.

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Wound infection

Some people develop a wound infection after surgery. This is not a common side effect, but it can occur after any type of surgery. Sometimes tubes are placed into the wound to drain excess fluid. Antibiotics may be used to help prevent or treat an infection. Wound infections are a temporary side effect of surgery.

Tell your doctor or the healthcare team about signs of infection, such as redness, pus or foul-smelling drainage, increased swelling or tenderness of the incision site and increased temperature (fever).

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Blood clots

A blood clot in the leg is called a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). A DVT can occur right after surgery because the person cannot get around very well and because of other factors. In the most serious cases, a blood clot can break off and travel to the lungs (called a pulmonary embolus or PE). PE can cause shortness of breath and low oxygen levels in the blood.

Stopping smoking before surgery helps reduce the risk of blood clots. Frequent position changes, leg and ankle exercises and getting out of bed as soon as you can will help reduce blood clots. Low doses of a blood thinner, such as heparin, may be given as a daily injection for several weeks following surgery to help reduce the risk of blood clots if the woman has a high risk for developing them.

Tell your doctor or healthcare team about sudden shortness of breath, chest pain or any redness, swelling, pain or cramps in the calf of the leg.

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Lymph fluid can build up in the body when the lymph nodes are removed. This can lead to lymphedema (swelling of the limbs). Lymphedema may appear long after surgery is over and may last a long time.

The healthcare team will offer treatments to prevent further fluid buildup and reduce swelling as much as possible. Managing lymphedema may include a combination of elevating the affected leg while sitting, exercise and massage therapy.

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Treatment-induced menopause

Treatment-induced menopause is an immediate and permanent side effect in women who have both ovaries removed during ovarian cancer surgery.

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Infertility is an immediate and permanent side effect in women who have a total hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. This is the most common surgery done for ovarian cancer.

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Lusomé Founder and CEO Lara Smith Seeing my sister Erin – a young mother – struggle with the emotional blow and then the physical toll of cancer treatment made me want to do something to help women feel confident.

Read Lara's story

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