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Ovarian Cancer

What do I need to know about ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer may occur in one or both of your ovaries. Ovaries produce eggs and hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are important in helping the body work correctly.


What increases my risk for ovarian cancer?

  • A family history of ovarian cancer

  • Not having children, or having your first child after age 30

  • Menstrual cycles started earlier than normal, or menopause (end of menstruation cycles) started later than normal

  • Endometriosis

  • Smoking cigarettes

  • Exposure to talc, such as from talcum powder

  • Obesity

What are the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?

  • Abdominal fullness, bloating, or swelling

  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Changes in your menstrual cycle, including abnormal bleeding

  • Abdominal or low back pain

  • A need to urinate frequently

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

  • Blood tests may be used to measure the level of a chemical called CA-125. A higher level than normal may mean you have ovarian cancer.

  • An ultrasound or CT show the location of the tumor. You may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is ovarian cancer treated?

Ovarian cancer is treated depending on the size of the tumor and stage of the cancer. You may need more than one of the following:

  • Surgery may be needed to remove one or both of your ovaries.

  • Chemotherapy medicines are used to kill cancer cells.

  • Radiation is used to kill cancer cells and to shrink the tumor or tumors with x-rays or gamma rays.

What can I do to manage my ovarian cancer?

  • Do not smoke. Smoking increases your risk for new or returning cancer. Smoking can also delay healing after treatment. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.

  • Weigh yourself daily. Weigh yourself in the morning before breakfast. Weight gain can be a sign of extra fluid in your body. Call your healthcare provider if you gain at least 2 pounds in a day.

  • Drink liquids as directed. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Drink extra liquids to prevent dehydration. You will also need to replace fluid if you are vomiting or have diarrhea from cancer treatments.

  • Eat enough protein and calories. Foods may taste different during cancer treatment. You may not feel like eating, and you may lose weight. Eat a variety of health foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Eat small meals every 2 to 3 hours. Ask a dietitian for more information about the best eating plan for you.

  • Exercise as directed. Ask about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise may improve your energy levels and appetite.

  • Limit or do not drink alcohol as directed. Limit alcohol to 1 drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

What can I do to prevent ovarian cancer?

  • Take birth control pills as directed. Birth control pills that contain progestin may help protect you from ovarian cancer. Your healthcare provider may recommend you keep taking birth control pills for several years.

  • Breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding can help prevent ovarian cancer.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.

  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough.

  • You cough up blood.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You vomit multiple times and cannot keep any food or liquids down.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • Your pain is worse or does not go away after you take your pain medicine.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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