Surgery is one of the main treatments for ovarian cancer. Most women have their womb, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and cervix removed, which is known as a total hysterectomy with bilateral salpingo oophorectomy.
If the cancer is limited to one ovary, you may only have this ovary and its connected fallopian tube removed. However, if the cancer has spread to other organs, you may also need to have some of your colon, small intestine and/or bladder removed.
The type of surgery you have will depend on the location and stage of the cancer. A full hysterectomy is a major operation and you will need to take it easy and rest for the first few weeks after surgery.
Your surgery will be performed under general anaesthetic. When you first wake up you will probably feel drowsy and groggy. You may also feel some discomfort or pain and will be given treatment to manage your pain. If your pain persists, you feel nauseous or have any other symptoms, speak to your healthcare team as soon as possible.
Once you are fully awake, your healthcare team will help you get up and move around. You should be able to eat and drink normally.
Depending on the type of surgery you’ve had, you should be able to go home after three to seven days. You may need stitches removed after a week or so, and this can be done at the same hospital you had your surgery or by a nurse who visits your home.
When you are recovering at home you will need to rest as much as possible for the first couple of weeks. Try to rest with your feet up whenever possible. You will feel tired and weak for a while but this will improve with time. There will be some soreness but this should be easy to manage with pain medication.
Before you leave hospital, a physiotherapist will give you some exercises to do at home to help your body recover from the surgery. Practice these daily if you can. Listen to your body — if you’re tired, rest and also avoid heavy lifting for the first few weeks.
After the first few weeks, you will gradually be able to increase the amount of activity you do. You can start to get up more and take short walks. You will still get tired easily so don’t try to do too much at once. Build up your activity level gradually.
After a couple of weeks, you will have a follow-up appointment to discuss how your surgery went and if you will need any more treatment. This is a good time to discuss how your recovery is going and ask any questions you may have. If you need more treatment such as chemotherapy, a treatment plan will be put together for you.
If you don’t need any more treatment you will still have follow-up appointments to check how your recovery is going and perform tests to check for any signs of cancer or side effects from treatment. Tests may include blood tests, an X-ray, CT scan and/or ultrasound scan.
The amount of time you need to take off work will depend on the type of surgery you have and what kind of work you do. You will probably need one to three months off work and should not do any strenuous activities or heavy lifting for at least three months.
You may find travelling in a car uncomfortable for a while after your surgery and may need to wait a month or more before you can drive again.
Having a major operation can affect you emotionally, as can cancer treatment and changes in your hormone levels if both of your ovaries are removed. So take it easy on yourself and take your emotional recovery seriously. You may feel vulnerable and as if an essential part of you is missing, particularly if you have had your womb removed. These feelings should pass with time but if you’re finding it difficult, talk to somebody about how you feel. There are counsellors and support groups for women who have had surgery for ovarian cancer.
If both of your ovaries are removed and you haven’t already been through menopause, your menopause will happen immediately. This can cause symptoms, such as low mood, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and vaginal dryness, which can be difficult to handle. Talk to your GP or discuss your concerns at your follow-up appointment. There are treatments available that can help with early menopause symptoms.
If you had one ovary removed, leaving behind your other ovary and womb, you may still be able to have children in the future. This is something you should discuss with your consultant if you are planning to get pregnant.
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