Having surgery for ovarian cancer
You will usually go to a pre-assessment clinic a few days or weeks before the operation. You will have tests to check you are fit for surgery, such as blood tests and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to check your heart.
A member of the surgical team and a specialist nurse will explain the operation to you. Make sure you discuss any questions or concerns that you have about the operation with them.
You will also see the doctor who will give you your anaesthetic (the anaesthetist). They will talk to you about the anaesthetic and explain how your pain will be controlled after the operation.
You will usually be admitted to hospital on the day of your operation. Sometimes, you may be admitted the day before. Your doctor or nurse will tell you when you need to arrive at hospital.
You will be given elastic stockings (TED stockings) to wear during and after the operation. These prevent blood clots forming in your legs.
If you smoke, try to give up or cut down before your operation. This will help reduce your risk of chest problems and will help your wound to heal after the operation. Your GP can help you if you want to give up smoking.
How quickly you recover will depend on the type of operation you have.
You will be encouraged to start moving around as soon as possible. While you are in bed, it is important to move your legs regularly and do deep breathing exercises. This is to help prevent chest infections and blood clots. A physiotherapist will show you how to do these exercises.
You may also have regular injections of a blood thinning drug to help reduce the risk of blood clots. You may need to continue the injections after you go home. Your nurse will teach you or a relative or friend how to give the injections, or arrange for a district nurse to visit you at home.
Back on the ward
You will be given fluids into a vein in your hand or arm. This is called a drip or intravenous infusion. This will be taken out as soon as you are eating and drinking normally.
You will usually have a tube (catheter) to drain urine from your bladder. It is usually taken out a few days after your surgery, but sometimes it may need to stay in for longer.
You may have a drainage tube from your wound to drain fluid into a small bottle. This is usually removed after a few days.
It is normal to have some pain or discomfort for a few days after surgery. But this can be controlled with painkillers. It is important to let your doctor or nurse know as soon as possible if the pain is not controlled, so that they can change your painkillers.
Immediately after your operation you may have strong painkillers. They may be given through one of the following straight after your operation:
- By injection into a muscle – The nurses will do this for you.
- An epidural – This is a small, thin tube in your back that goes into the space around your spinal cord. An epidural will give you continuous pain relief.
- A patient-controlled analgesia pump (PCA pump) – The pump is attached to a fine tube (cannula), in a vein in your arm. You control the pump using a handset that you press when you need more of the painkiller. It is fine to press the handset whenever you have pain. The pump is designed so you get a safe dose and cannot have too much.
When you no longer need strong painkillers, you will be given milder painkillers as tablets. You may be given a supply to take home. Tell your nurse or doctor if you are still in pain, so they can adjust the dose or give you a different painkiller.
Constipation and wind
Some women have difficulty opening their bowels or have uncomfortable wind for a few days after the operation. Tell the nurses if you have this. They can give you medicines to relieve discomfort and constipation.
Constipation and wind usually get better once you are moving around more. Drinking plenty of fluids and eating high-fibre foods can also help.
The surgeon will close your wound using clips, stitches or sometimes skin glue. Clips or stitches are usually removed after you go home. A practice nurse at your GP surgery can do this. Some stitches, called dissolving stitches, can be absorbed by the body and do not need to be removed.
Wound infections can be a complication of the surgery. Signs of wound infection include:
- discharge (fluid or pus coming from the wound)
- feeling unwell
- a fever or high temperature.
Tell your nurse or doctor if you get any of these symptoms, even after you go home. If you cannot talk to your hospital team, tell your GP or out of hours service.
You may be able to go home 3 to 7 days after your operation. It will depend on the operation you had and how quickly you recover.
Before you go home, you will be given an appointment to see the surgeon and nurse at an outpatient clinic. They will check your wound is healing and that you are recovering well.
They will also tell you more about the results of your operation and any further treatment you might need. You can ask questions and discuss any problems or worries at this appointment. But if you have any difficulties or worries before this, you can phone them for advice.
You may have some light vaginal bleeding or red-brown discharge for up to 6 weeks after surgery.
Tell your surgeon or specialist nurse straight away if the discharge:
- becomes bright red
- is heavy
- smells unpleasant
- contains clots.
You should not have sex or put anything in your vagina (such as tampons) for about 6 weeks after your surgery. You should also avoid swimming. This reduces the risk of infection and helps your wounds heal.
After 6 weeks, your wounds are likely to be healed and you can have sex again. But it may take longer than this for your energy levels and sex drive to return.
If you have any worries or concerns, you can talk to your specialist nurse. Or call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00.
You will be recovering for some time after you go home, so take things easy for a few weeks. It can take 3 months or more to fully recover. It may take longer if you have chemotherapy as well.
For about 12 weeks, avoid any activity that:
- makes you breathless
- involves heavy lifting, pushing, pulling or stretching.
Your physiotherapist or nurse will give you advice about physical activity.
Build up your energy levels gradually. Taking regular walks is a good way of doing this. You can increase the amount you do as you feel able.
How soon you can drive will depend on the surgery you had and how quickly you recover. You need to feel comfortable wearing a seatbelt. You also need to be able to carry out an emergency stop if necessary. Ask your nurse or doctor for advice. Some insurance companies have guidelines about this. So it is a good idea to contact your insurance company to check before you start driving again.
Surgery for cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube or peritoneum is usually a major operation. It is natural to feel low or tearful after these types of surgery. You are likely to feel tired. Your body needs time to recover and heal. This can make it harder to cope with the stress of having cancer and the difficult emotions you may be feeling.
As you recover, you may find it easier to cope. It can help to talk about how you feel and get more support. Talk to your specialist nurse or give our cancer support specialists a call on 0808 808 00 00.
Ovarian cancer references
Below is a sample of the sources used in our ovarian cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at email@example.com
Fotopoulou C, et al. British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) epithelial ovarian/ fallopian tube/ primary peritoneal cancer guidelines: recommendations for practice. European Journal of Obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. 2017. 213: 123-139.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Ovarian cancer: recognition and initial management. Clinical guideline (CG122). April 2011. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/Guidance/CG122 (accessed June 2017).
Germ cell ovarian cancer references
Below is a sample of the sources used in our germ cell ovarian cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Management of female malignant ovarian germ cell tumours. Scientific impact paper no.52. Nov 2016. Available from: www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/scientific-impact-papers/sip_52.pdf (accessed June 2017)
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor David Luesley, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology.
Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.