Common Ovarian Cancer Treatment Side Effects
Several treatments are used for ovarian cancer. Most of them have been tested and tried for decades. This means their side effects and complications are well known and understood. Thankfully, this also means your doctor and cancer care team can predict them. Talk with your doctor about possible side effects and how you can be prepared for them before beginning any treatment.
Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy is a drug that seeks out and destroys cancerous cells. The most common side effects of chemotherapy include:
- hair loss
- loss of appetite
- rashes on the hands and feet
- mouth sores
Chemotherapy interrupts your body’s ability to produce cells in the bone marrow. This causes your blood cell counts to decrease. Additional chemo side effects caused by low blood cell counts include:
- increased risk for infections due to a shortage of disease-fighting white blood cells
- easily bleeding or bruising due to a shortage of blood platelets
- fatigue due to low red blood cell numbers
Most side effects will stop or disappear once you have finished chemotherapy treatments. But some treatments can cause long-term side effects. These include:
- kidney damage: One type of chemotherapy called cisplatin (Platinol) can cause kidney damage. You can take measures to prevent the damage, but they aren’t always successful.
- nerve damage: Cisplatin and taxanes, another type of chemo drug, can cause nerve damage. You may experience numbness, stinging or tingling, and pain in your extremities. Cisplatin may also damage the nerves in your ears, leading to hearing loss.
- bone marrow damage: Rarely, chemotherapy treatments damage bone marrow. This damage may eventually lead to bone marrow cancer.
Ovarian cancer surgery sometimes requires removing your ovaries and/or your uterus. If this happens, you won’t be able to become pregnant. This infertility is permanent.
In some cases, fertility can be maintained if the cancer is confined to just one ovary. If only one ovary needs to be removed, your doctor can leave your other ovary, fallopian tube, and uterus.
If your doctor decides to remove both ovaries and/or your uterus, you won’t be able to become pregnant. You’ll also through menopause after the surgery, if you haven’t already.
The most common symptoms of menopause include:
- hot flashes
- vaginal dryness
- pain and discomfort during intercourse
- insomnia or problems sleeping
- frequent urination
- decreased sex drive
- changes in mood
Radiation Side Effects
Radiation targets specific areas of your body with high-energy X-rays, gamma rays, or charged particles. These particles can damage and destroy cancerous cells.
The most common side effects of radiation include:
- skin changes, including areas that appear to be sunburned and peel or blister
- vaginal irritation
- vaginal discharge
Estrogen plays an important role in bone development. This is why some ovarian cancer treatments can interrupt your bone growth. For example, hormone therapy treatments that are designed to block or stop estrogen production may weaken your bones over time. Bone thinning can lead to osteoporosis, and may ultimately cause brittle bones that break or fracture easily.
A type of targeted therapy drug called bevacizumab (Avastin) may cause a potentially fatal side effect. Holes or perforations in the bowel wall develop in some women while taking this drug. Although this side effect is rare, it can be fatal.
Side Effects After Treatment
In most cases, these side effects will stop once your treatments end. For example, hair loss isn’t permanent and your hair should regrow.
Some side effects, like nausea, may be treatable with prescription medications or alternative treatments. Talk to your doctor about how you should prepare for potential side effects before you begin treatments. Ask for information on both over-the-counter and prescription remedies, as well as alternative or lifestyle changes that may ease the impact of side effects.