I'm undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer
I am undergoing treatment
You may feel very positive that you are being well cared for, but it is normal to experience feelings of Apprehension or fear. You may be worried about
what your treatment will involve, whether you will be in pain and what side effects there may be.
What treatment will you have?
Surgery and chemotherapy (treatment with drugs) are commonly used to treat ovarian cancer. However, your doctor will decide your treatment based on your personal circumstances. You may have surgery before starting chemotherapy treatment or your doctor may recommend starting chemotherapy first as this can help shrink your
cancer and make it easier to remove during surgery. In these cases, your chemotherapy will continue once you have recovered from surgery. In some cases surgery is considered too risky in which case chemotherapy will act as your main treatment.
For some rarer forms of ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal cancer your treatment may also include radiotherapy (see www.targetovariancancer.org.
uk/treatmentoptions for more information).
Before your surgery
If you find the prospect of surgery very frightening you are not alone. You may have had a bad experience as a child or have a fear of needles or anaesthetics. If this is the case be sure to talk to the doctors and nurses about your fears. A lot of the fear can be reduced if you are given the facts about what to expect.
You will be examined and given a series of tests to check that you are fit enough to have surgery. Your surgeon will explain what will happen during the operation. It is often difficult for the surgeon to know exactly how much surgery is needed so they
may discuss different possibilities and options with you. If you have any questions or concerns about your surgery, don’t be afraid to raise them with your surgeon. If you think of questions later you can also ask your clinical nurse specialist or key worker
about anything you didn’t understand.
After your surgery
Surgery puts your body through a great deal of stress, so it is very important to allow time to heal and recover. In the month following your surgery you should take things very gently, allowing yourself plenty of time to rest. Why not stock up with a few good books or DVDs to help you relax? Make sure you also get lots of sleep. You should not
do any strenuous activity, work (including heavy house work), or lift anything heavy for at least three months after your operation.
• Will you be in pain? You will be given medication to ensure you are as comfortable as possible
• How tired will you be? It is usual to feel tired after your surgery as your body is working hard to recover. You may experience extreme tiredness or fatigue which can occur very suddenly. It is important to build up activity gradually to help you deal with this
What chemotherapy will you have?
A drug called carboplatin is widely used to treat ovarian cancer. You may also have paclitaxel (also often called taxol). Other drugs are occasionally used
such as cisplatin.
What happens when you have treatment?
Most women go to the chemotherapy unit at their local hospital. You will usually spend most of the day at the hospital so take a relative or friend to keep you company. A couple of magazines and a good book can help pass the time.
At the hospital a number of blood samples will be taken for testing before each cycle of treatment. These test different parts of the body to check you are
healthy enough to receive treatment. Once your blood test results are available, your treatment can start.You will be shown into the treatment room where you will be invited to settle yourself in a comfy chair. The nurse will place a needle into one of the veins on your hand or arm and attach a drip so that the drugs can enter your blood stream. This might feel a bit uncomfortable as the drip goes in. If you are having carboplatin and paclitaxel then the nurse will give you the paclitaxel first followed by the
Will you have any side effects?
Many women treated with chemotherapy will experience mild side effects that can be easily treated; it is rare for side effects to be severe. Your hospital may have given you a helpline number to call if you experience side effects. For most women the side effects do not start straight away and most people are able to drive home from hospital. When you look at all the possible side effects together
they can look unpleasant. Try to remember most women will not experience all these side effects and hopefully those that do affect you will be mild. Many people find that as treatment continues they become used to the effects and can plan around
them. If you are unlucky and are badly affected do hesitate to get in touch with your hospital as they will be able to help you.
• Less able to fight infection – Chemotherapy reduces the number of white cells in your blood and that means your ability to fight infections may be reduced. This is why the hospital will want you to contact them immediately if you get a temperature or feel ill in the days or weeks following treatment. There is no need to avoid family, friends and other members of the public, but you should avoid people with serious infections. Your hospital should give you a helpline number to ring if you are feeling ill in the
weeks after treatment
Other common side effects of chemotherapy can include:
• Tiredness and fatigue – Most women feel very tired during chemotherapy so
it is important to plan time to recover your energy
• Hair loss – It is rare for carboplatin to cause hair loss, however, nearly all women treated with paclitaxel will experience temporary hair loss. This will usually start two
to four weeks after treatment begins. You may be offered a cold cap to help minimise hair loss. Cold caps can be uncomfortable and treatment does take longer when they are used.
• Feeling or being sick – You will be given anti-sickness
medication to take home. If you do vomit you need to contact your
chemotherapy team and they will change your prescription
• Tingling or numbness in hands and / or feet –Chemotherapy can affect your nerves which may cause your feet or hands to tingle or feel numb If you would like more detailed information about the side effects of chemotherapy including cold caps
see our website www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/
last review: January 2012
next review: January 2014