What happens after treatment for ovarian cancer?
For some people with ovarian cancer, treatment may remove or destroy the cancer. It can feel good to be done with treatment, but it can also be stressful. You may find that you now worry about the cancer coming back. This is a very common concern among those who have had cancer. (When cancer comes back, it is called a recurrence.)
It may take a while before your recovery begins to feel real and your fears are somewhat relieved. You can learn more about what to look for and how to learn to live with the chance of cancer coming back in Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence.
For other people, the cancer never goes away completely. These women may be treated with chemotherapy (chemo) or other treatments on and off for years. Learning to live with cancer that does not go away can be hard and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. Our document, When Cancer Doesn't Go Away, gives more information about this.
After your treatment is over, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It is very important to go to all of your follow-up visits. During these visits, your doctors will ask questions about any problems you may have and may do exams and lab tests or x-rays and scans to look for signs of cancer or treatment side effects. Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to months, but others can last the rest of your life. This is the time for you to talk to your cancer care team about any changes or problems you notice and any questions or concerns you have.
Follow-up for ovarian cancer usually includes a careful physical exam and may include blood tests to help spot a return of the cancer. CA-125 levels are often used to follow-up of women with epithelial ovarian cancers. This protein often called a tumor marker, because its level tends to be increased when ovarian cancer is first found and goes down with successful treatment. CA-125 levels often go up again if the cancer comes back.
Still, it isn’t clear that checking for CA-125 levels and starting treatment right away helps women live longer than waiting until they have symptoms. In fact, it could increase side effects of treatment, so it is important to discuss the pros and cons of checking CA-125 levels and quality of life with your doctor.
Other tumor markers, such as CA 19-9, CEA, and HE-4, can be used in patients whose CA-125 levels never went up.
It is also important to keep health insurance. While you hope your cancer won’t come back, it could happen. If it does, you don’t want to have to worry about paying for treatment. Should your cancer come back, our document When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence helps you manage and cope with this phase of your treatment.
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn't know anything about your cancer. It is important that you be able to give your new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy and always keep copies for yourself:
- A copy of your pathology report from any biopsy or surgery
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you were in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home from the hospital
- If you had radiation treatment, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- If you had drug therapy (such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or targeted therapy), a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- Copies of x-rays and imaging tests (these can be put on a DVD)
The doctor may want copies of this information for his records, but always keep copies for yourself.
Last Medical Review: 04/22/2013
Last Revised: 02/06/2014