Long-term effects of surgery for ovarian cancer

Surgery for ovarian cancer can affect other areas of your life:

Early menopause

If you have had surgery to remove your ovaries you will enter menopause.

Menopause can cause symptoms such as hot flushes, sweats, dry vagina, thinning bones and feeling emotional and anxious.

To control these symptoms some women are able to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT).  Your GP or oncologist can help you decide what's best for you. Some women will not be able to take HRT as some types of ovarian cancer are sensitive to hormones. Make sure that you check this with your oncologist.

Fertility

If you have surgery to remove your ovaries, fallopian tubes and womb you will not be able to become pregnant but depending on the type and stage of your cancer you may be able to have ‘fertility-sparing surgery’ that preserves the uterus and an unaffected ovary so that you might be able to become pregnant naturally later on.

Fertility-sparing surgery may be an option for women with:

  • Stage one ovarian cancer
  • Ovarian tumours of low malignant potential
  • Malignant ovarian germ cell tumours
  • Ovarian sex cord-stromal tumours

Where fertility-sparing surgery is not appropriate, it may be possible for your ovarian tissue or eggs to be removed and persevered in order to be used for IVF, to get pregnant with medical help.

It’s important to discuss any fertility concerns with your oncologist as soon as possible.

Your sex life

The removal of your ovaries may lead to symptoms that affect your sex life. 

By removing your ovaries, the level of the hormone oestrogen in your body will reduce.

A low level of oestrogen may cause thinning of the tissue/skin around your vagina, a reduction in the mucus that lubricates your vagina and loss of fat tissue around your genital area – making your vagina shorter, less elastic and drier. 

These changes do not affect all women and usually take months or years to develop but can cause the following symptoms:

  • Pain or general discomfort during sex
  • Vaginal itching
  • Urgency when needing the toilet
  • Urinary infections 
  • A change in your libido

These symptoms are not permanent and can be easily treated with over-the-counter drugs. 

A vaginal moisturiser like Replens® or Sensilube® can be used to treat dryness.  Or you might like to use an oestrogen cream that is inserted into the vagina helping to restore oestrogen to your vagina and surrounding tissues.  These medications can be prescribed by your GP but should not be used as a substitute for lubricating gels, which should be used separately. 

Hormone Replacement Therapy can also be used to relieve some symptoms, but you should discuss this with your oncologist to see if this is the best option for the type of cancer that you have had as some cancers are sensitive to hormones.

Some women experience concerns about body image, energy levels and sexuality.  These issues can be overcome with the right support from your GP, oncologist, psychosexual counsellors, premature menopause specialist or gynaecologist.

If you are concerned about your sex life, mention it to your GP, your cancer nurse or oncologist.  They will be able to advise you or can refer you to an early menopause clinic, psychosexual counsellor or gynaecologist.

You can also contact the Daisy Network and Menopause Matters.  Both provide patient support and information about the different treatment options available.

For more information about treating ovarian cancer you can download our leaflet.