Managing Advanced Ovarian Cancer Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on September 10, 2022
4 min read

If you have advanced ovarian cancer, it means that your cancer has spread outside of your ovary into other areas of your body. As a result, your symptoms may be harder to manage than before it spread.

Whichever ones you have, there are many ways you and your doctor can work together to help you feel better.

You might have intense pain in your pelvis or your abdomen. To treat this, your doctor may give you over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen. They could also write a prescription for an opioid if those other drugs don’t help.

Complementary therapy may help you feel better, too. These are non-medical methods you can use to ease pain, stress, and side effects.

Complementary therapies include:

Talk with your doctor before you try any complementary therapies. They can help you make sure that what you want to try can help you.

Ovarian cancer cells can grow and block your bowel. If this happens, food waste and fluids from your gut will get stuck. This can lead to things like:

Your doctor may prescribe a drug called octreotide (Sandostatin LAR Depot) to help. This will lower the amount of fluid your digestive system makes.

You might need surgery to clear the blockage. In some cases, your doctor might try something called a stoma, which is an opening in your abdomen. The surgeon will attach the healthy part of your colon to the opening. This allows your poop to come out of the stoma and into a waterproof bag that attaches to your abdomen.

Talk to your doctor to see if this surgery is a good fit for you.

Pressure created from ovarian cancer can block one or both of your ureters. They're the tubes that connect your kidneys to your bladder. If this happens, your pee won’t be able to drain and your kidney could swell.

Your doctor may put in a tube to fix the backup and allow your pee to flow out of your kidney.

There are two kinds:

Ureteral stent. This is a tube that goes inside of you. Your doctor will use an ultrasound or X-ray as a guide. It’ll let pee drain from your kidney to your bladder.

Nephrostomy tube. This is a thin tube that goes through your lower back and into your kidney. Your doctor will use an X-ray or ultrasound to put the tube in place. It’ll connect to a drainage bag that's outside your body that your pee will go into. You may still pass some urine the normal way, even with a nephrostomy tube.

You may feel the need to go to the bathroom more often when you have advanced ovarian cancer. This is because a mass from your cancer pushes on other organs, like your bladder.

Your ovarian cancer may cause you to lose weight. This can be because your body makes proteins called cytokines to help fight your cancer. They can make you less hungry, so you'll eat less.

Your weight can also drop because cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can cause you to vomit, have a lower appetite, and get mouth sores that can make it unpleasant to eat.

Talk to your doctor if you start to lose weight quickly. They can help you create a plan to keep you at a healthy weight. It may include nausea or steroid medicines to help you be able to eat.

While it may be hard to have food during cancer treatment, it’s important to try to keep a balanced diet. Have plenty of fluids, protein-rich foods, and nutritious options like smoothies in your diet.

Ascites is a buildup of fluid in your abdomen. It's a common symptom of advanced ovarian cancer, and it can happen for several reasons.

Cancer cells can spread to the lining of your abdomen (your doctor might call it the peritoneum). If they do, your abdomen can get irritated. This can cause ascites. Your cancer could also block part of your lymphatic system, which helps your body get rid of waste. This blockage won’t let fluid drain out of your abdomen.

You may have bloating from ascites, which can lead to other uncomfortable side effects, like:

  • Constipation
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath

Chemotherapy, one of the treatments for ovarian cancer, can ease the backup of this fluid. You doctor might also drain some of it out to help you feel better.