Ovarian Cancer and Mental Health

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on July 22, 2022
5 min read

Having ovarian cancer takes a toll on your body. But it can affect your mental health, too.

In fact, it more than triples your risk of mental illness.

That risk can go up and down during your ovarian cancer journey. It depends on things like how advanced your ovarian cancer is, your age, and your personality. Your mental health status may also influence how well you’ll do with your cancer treatment, and your chances of surviving your cancer.

Several studies have looked at rates of depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions when you have ovarian cancer.

One study focused on 143 women with ovarian cancer. About half had more advanced ovarian cancer and 80% were in treatment. Researchers used standard ways to measure psychological distress, and whether the women were getting care for their mental health. They found:

  • 1 in 5 women had moderate to severe levels of distress
  • More than half had high stress responses to their cancer and its treatment
  • 60% weren’t getting any services or treatment for their mental health

Another study looked at 24 earlier studies related to depression and anxiety in women with ovarian cancer. It also looked at how your mental health might change with your treatment stage. All the studies combined included more than 3,600 women with ovarian cancer.

Overall, it found that women with ovarian cancer have depression and anxiety much more often than women who are considered healthy.

It found the prevalence of depression was:

  • 25% before treatment
  • 23% during treatment
  • 13% after treatment

It found the prevalence of anxiety was:

  • 19% before treatment
  • 26% during treatment
  • 27% after treatment

Another study, published in 2021, looked at mental health disorders in more than 1,600 ovarian cancer survivors compared with more than 7,000 women the same age who didn’t have ovarian cancer. The study found that women with ovarian cancer were at much greater risk for mental illnesses.

In the first 2 years after their ovarian cancer diagnosis, they had:

  • A 3 times increase in having depression
  • A 3.5 times increase in having an anxiety disorder

In the 2-5 years after their ovarian diagnosis, they still had:

  • A 1.67 times increase in having depression
  • A 1.86 times increase in having anxiety disorder

Women with ovarian cancer also were:

  • 80% more likely to have a mental health condition at the time of their death
  • 94% more likely have depression at the time of their death

Researchers haven’t looked at this question as much.

One study that did found that your mental health may influence how you’ll do with ovarian cancer for reasons that aren’t well understood. It found that when you have a mental health condition along with ovarian cancer, you're almost twice as likely to die, compared to women with ovarian cancer who don’t have depression or an anxiety disorder.

This might be because you’re more likely to have depression and anxiety when your ovarian cancer is more advanced and your chances of surviving are lower. But it’s also possible that taking care of your mental health may help you through your cancer treatment in ways that improve your odds of surviving.

You’re more likely to have psychological distress, depression, and/or anxiety disorder when you:

  • Are younger at diagnosis
  • Have more advanced ovarian cancer
  • Have ovarian cancer that’s spread to distant parts of your body
  • Have ovarian cancer that’s predicted to grow faster or it’s a higher grade
  • Have ovarian cancer that comes back after treatment
  • Are newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer

Your risk for developing a mental health condition will also depend on other factors, including:

  • Your mental health prior to having ovarian cancer
  • Your personality and general outlook on life
  • Whether you get support and care for your mental health

Everyone feels down sometimes. That’s especially true when you have a serious health condition like ovarian cancer. But it’s important to know the signs of a more serious and ongoing mental health problem.

You may notice these changes in yourself. Let your loved ones know what they should look for, so they can support you and help you get any help you need along the way.

Signs of depression include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or “empty” most of the time
  • Losing interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Changes in your weight
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sleeping too much
  • Feeling tired or without energy most of the time
  • Acting either restless or slow most of the time
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
  • Thinking about or attempting suicide
  • Having mood swings

Signs of anxiety include:

  • Looking worried or anxious
  • Feeling constantly anxious in ways you can’t control
  • Having trouble solving problems or focusing
  • Feeling tense or tight
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling restless or unable to relax
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Acting irritable or short-tempered

Signs of distress include:

  • Feeling sad, fearful, angry, helpless, or out of control
  • Losing faith or purpose
  • Pulling away from friends and family
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, or panicked

If you have ovarian cancer and identify with these feelings -- or you think a loved one with ovarian cancer needs help for their mental health -- don’t wait. It’s important to let your doctors know how you’re feeling so you can get help for your mental health, in addition to your cancer. Reach out to your loved ones for support.

One study of women with ovarian cancer showed that those who sought more emotional social support had a higher quality of life. They also had lower levels of depression. Help is out there. While it won’t change your ovarian cancer, it can change how you feel and improve your coping skills.

Some things that may help with depression, anxiety, and distress include:

  • Letting loved ones know how you feel and what you need, so they can support and encourage you.
  • Getting help with any concerns you have related to the cost of ovarian cancer treatment.
  • Joining a support group.
  • Asking your doctor for a referral to mental health and social support services.
  • Staying as active and engaged as you can.