One of the longer terms effects of having both ovaries removed is that it will bring on an early menopause. The menopause usually happens naturally in women between the ages of 45 and 55 when the levels of oestrogen (a hormone produced by the ovaries) gradually declines and periods stop. This can cause symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal discomfort or dryness, feeling low or anxious, and having a lower sex drive.
Symptoms of early menopause can begin immediately after surgery. Some women will not experience any symptoms, some will experience a few, and some may experience all of them.
Symptoms can get better on their own, but there are treatment options to control and manage them too, such as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). Your GP or oncologist will help you prepare and decide how best to manage an early menopause. You can ask to be referred to a menopause specialist who may be part of a gynaecology or sexual health team.
Experiencing an early menopause can be overwhelming. It’s important you are given the support you need. Our Advice for younger women section signposts the expert organisations that are there to help women cope physically and emotionally with early menopause.
Loss of fertility
Ovarian cancer treatment may involve the removal of both ovaries, fallopian tubes and the womb, which means you are no longer able to get pregnant naturally. This can be difficult to cope with and make your recovery harder. Macmillan says that many women find talking to their partner, a relative or friend helpful. Your specialist nurse or GP are also on hand may arrange counselling for you.
Visit Macmillan Cancer Support for more information and support.
Your sex life after ovarian cancer
Talking to your doctor about sex
Your sex life can be a really important part of what it means to get back to normal. However, many women may feel the impact their cancer diagnosis and treatment has on their sex lives isn’t something they should raise with their doctor.
Ovarian cancer treatment can affect your comfort and enjoyment of sex by bringing on a number of different symptoms. And there are a number of ways your doctor and medical team can help you understand and manage the symptoms you experience.
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.
The impact of ovarian cancer surgery on your sex life
Ovarian cancer surgery can affect your body in different ways which can impact your experience of sex.
The removal of your ovaries will reduce oestrogen levels in the body, and this drop can cause the vagina to become drier, thinner and less elastic. This may lead some women to experience symptoms including vaginal itchiness, discomfort or pain during sex due to dryness, or urinary problems if the tissue round the neck of your bladder thins or weakens.
These symptoms can be treated effectively, in some cases with topical cream (applied directly to the vagina), moisturiser, and over-the-counter drugs. For vaginal dryness you can try a vaginal moisturiser. Your GP can talk to you about the different treatment options, prescribe them when necessary and check how you’re getting on with them.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is another way to relieve symptoms. Discuss this with your oncologist to see if this is the best option for your cancer type.
“Sex after hysterectomy or oophectomy might be scary to think about at first, but once you’ve recovered from surgery, you should be able to have sex if you want to. Doing exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, taking hormone treatments to help with menopausal symptoms, and talking to someone about your feelings after the operation are all things which can help you to enjoy sex again.”Emily Gunning, Live Better with Cancer
It’s good to know that there’s lots of support and advice available to you if you’re concerned or need help managing the side effects of ovarian cancer surgery that may be affecting your relationship or feelings of intimacy. As a start, take a read through our section Advice for younger women. Here you can read information on fertility, sex and relationships, and find which expert organisations will help answer your personal questions.