Ovarian Cancer: Follow-Up Care

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2015

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about your medical care after cancer treatment is completed, and why this follow-up care is important. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen.

Care for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer doesn’t end when active treatment has finished. Your health care team will continue to check to make sure the cancer has not returned, manage any side effects, and monitor your overall health. This is called follow-up care.

After treatment for ovarian cancer ends, talk with your doctor about developing a follow-up care plan. This plan may include regular physical and pelvic examinations and/or medical tests to monitor your recovery for the coming months and years.

Although there are no specific guidelines for follow-up care for women treated for ovarian cancer, many doctors recommend a pelvic examination every two to four months for the first two years after treatment, and every six months for the following three years. Other tests may include a chest x-ray, CT scan, and blood tests, such as a CA-125 test. Women treated for ovarian cancer may have an increased risk of breast cancer or colon cancer (Lynch Syndrome with certain types of ovarian cancer), and they should talk with their doctors about screening tests for these cancers.

Any new problem should be reported to your doctor, including pain, loss of appetite or weight, changes in your menstrual cycle, unusual vaginal bleeding, urinary problems, blurred vision, dizziness, coughing, hoarseness, headaches, backaches or abdominal pain, bloating, or difficulty eating or digestive problems that seem unusual or don’t go away. These symptoms may be signs that the cancer has come back or signs of another medical condition.

Learn more about the importance of follow-up care.

Watching for recurrence

One goal of follow-up care is to check for a recurrence. Cancer recurs because small areas of cancer cells may remain undetected in the body. Over time, these cells may increase in number until they show up on test results or cause signs or symptoms. During follow-up care, a doctor familiar with your medical history can give you personalized information about your risk of recurrence. Your doctor will also ask specific questions about your health. Some people may have blood tests or imaging tests as part of regular follow-up care, but testing recommendations depend on several factors including the type and stage of cancer originally diagnosed and the types of treatment given.

Managing long-term and late side effects

Most people expect to experience side effects when receiving treatment. However, it is often surprising to survivors that some side effects may linger beyond the treatment period. These are called long-term side effects. In addition, other side effects called late effects may develop months or even years afterwards. Long-term and late effects can include both physical and emotional changes.

Talk with your doctor about your risk of developing such side effects based on the type of cancer, your individual treatment plan, and your overall health. If you had a treatment known to cause specific late effects, you may also have certain physical examinations, scans, or blood tests to help find and manage them.

Keeping personal health records

You and your doctor should work together to develop a personalized follow-up care plan. Be sure to ask about any concerns you have about your future physical or emotional health. ASCO offers forms to help create a treatment summary to keep track of the cancer treatment you received and develop a survivorship care plan once treatment is completed.

This is also a good time to decide who will lead your follow-up care. Some survivors continue to see their oncologist, while others transition back to the general care of their family doctor or another health care professional. This decision depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, side effects, health insurance rules, and your personal preferences.

If a doctor who was not directly involved in your cancer care will lead your follow-up care, be sure to share your cancer treatment summary and survivorship care plan forms with him or her, as well as all future health care providers. Details about your cancer treatment are very valuable to the health care professionals who will care for you throughout your lifetime.

The next section in this guide is Survivorship and it describes how to cope with challenges in everyday life after a cancer diagnosis. Or, use the menu on the side of your screen to choose another section to continue reading this guide.