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How to Take Care of Yourself With Ovarian Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on May 07, 2021

When you have ovarian cancer, you may feel scared and overwhelmed. You may worry about a recurrence and wonder how you will be able to get through treatment. It’s very important to make yourself a priority during this time.

What you eat, how active you are, how you manage side effects, and other healthy lifestyle habits you adopt can all impact how you feel, as well as your chances of remission. The good news is there is plenty you can still do to ensure that your mind and body are at their best.

Choose soothing foods.

If you are going through chemotherapy, you may find that the treatment causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This can make it harder for you to get the nutrients your body needs to fight cancer.

The following strategies may help:

  • Eat five to six small meals per day.
  • Choose foods that don’t have a strong smell.
  • Avoid greasy, high-fat foods.
  • Drink liquids between meals, rather than with meals.
  • Lie down with your head elevated for 30 minutes after you eat.
  • Take your nausea medications as prescribed, and eat when they seem to be working.
  • Take pain medications with a light food like crackers.

Mouth sores are another common side effect of chemotherapy. Avoid tomato products, citrus fruits and juices, and spicy foods. Choose foods soft in texture, like cream soups, mashed potatoes, yogurt, eggs, bananas, tofu, and pudding.

Once you finish treatment, it is still important to eat a very healthy diet. Limit processed and red meats to less than 18 ounces a week. Eat at least 2½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Research suggests that women who eat more vegetables -- specifically cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and kale -- reduce their risk of getting ovarian cancer.

Choose whole grains rather than refined grains, and focus on lean sources of protein such as poultry, seafood, beans and peas, nuts, and seeds.

Talk to your doctor before you take any dietary supplements. They may make your treatment less effective.

Exercise regularly.

It’s important to stay active if you have ovarian cancer, even if you are going through treatment. Exercise will help boost your energy level and immune system, and may help improve your mood and stress levels as well.

Women who are inactive have about a one-third higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than those who move more. But any level of physical activity seems to lessen risk and improve odds of survival. You may want to consult with a personal trainer to set safe exercise goals.

Seek support.

Research shows that support groups ease anxiety and depression, and improve quality of life and survivorship for women with ovarian cancer. They allow you to:

  • Meet with other women with ovarian cancer.
  • Share feelings about your diagnosis.
  • Discuss any issues or concerns you may have about your illness or treatment.
  • Learn about resources, treatments, and ways to manage side effects.

Your local hospital may host a support group. You can also find a list of online and in-person support groups on the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance’s website.

Develop a survivorship plan.

Once you finish treatment, ask your doctor to help you create a survivorship plan. This is a record of your cancer and treatment history, as well as any checkups or follow-up tests you will need in the future. It should also list possible long-term effects of your treatments.

Include a schedule of follow-up exams and tests that may include:

  • Doctor visits. These usually involve a pelvic exam and a physical exam every 2-4 months for the first couple of years, then every 3-6 months for several more.
  • Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRIs, or PET scans to check for any cancer recurrence
  • Blood tests to look for tumor markers such as CA-125 to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. The choice of which blood tests to do depends on the type of ovarian cancer you’ve had.

It’s also very important to keep copies of your medical records. If you get a new doctor, you can share the details of your diagnosis and treatment.

Don’t smoke.

Cigarette smoke contains toxic chemicals that can make it harder for your body to heal itself after cancer treatment. It also raises the risk of complications from medical procedures, such as surgery, and slows tissue healing.

Research shows that women who smoke have lower survival rates of ovarian cancer, compared to never-smokers. Fortunately, when you quit, your body begins to repair itself right away. This should help your immune system stay primed to fight the cancer if it does return.

Manage menopause-related side effects.

If you have surgery to remove your ovaries, you will go through menopause. This can cause symptoms like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, depression, pain during sex, and lowered libido.

There are things you can do to lessen these effects if the symptoms are severe. They include:

  • Hormone replacement therapy. You get this as an estrogen patch, tablet, or gel. (If you still have your uterus, you will get estrogen and progesterone.)
  • Vaginal estrogen. This is inserted into your vagina as a cream, tablet, or ring. It can help ease vaginal dryness and sexual discomfort but won’t help with other symptoms.
  • Antidepressants like citalopram, paroxetine, and venlafaxine to help with hot flashes or sweats
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) to help you cope with hot flashes, as well as depression and sleep disturbances

Reduce your infection risk.

When you have cancer, you are more likely to get sick with viral infections, like a cold, the flu, or COVID-19, and have a higher risk of getting complications. You can lower your risk with these strategies:

Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if they are not available.

Avoid crowds, and wear a mask if you can’t stay 6 feet away from others who are not in your household.

Try not to touch your eyes, mouth, and nose.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects at home and at work often.

Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance: “Eating Healthfully with Ovarian Cancer.”

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center: “Diet and Ovarian Cancer,” “Lack of Exercise is Associated with Ovarian Cancer Risk and Survival, But How Much Exercise is Enough?”

Winchester Hospital: “Lifestyle Changes to Manage Ovarian Cancer.”

Ovarian Cancer Project: “Support Group.”

American Cancer Society: “Living as an Ovarian Cancer Survivor.”

International Journal of Cancer: “Cigarette smoking is associated with adverse survival among women with ovarian cancer: Results from a pooled analysis of 19 studies.”

Ovarian Cancer Action: “Early Menopause.”

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