Ovaries are the reproductive organs where eggs are made. When cancer develops in the ovaries, it’s known as ovarian cancer.
Multiple treatments are available to help bring ovarian cancer into remission. If you have ovarian cancer that returns after a period of remission, it’s known as recurrent ovarian cancer.
Recurrent ovarian cancer usually comes back in the same place as the tumor originally developed, or it may grow back in another part of the body, though this is less common.
Read on to learn more about ovarian cancer recurrence.
Multiple factors affect the risk of ovarian cancer recurrence, including the stage at which the cancer was originally diagnosed and treated. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed and treated, the less likely it is to return.
According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA), the risk of ovarian cancer recurrence is:
- 10 percent if the cancer is diagnosed and treated in stage 1
- 30 percent if it’s diagnosed and treated in stage 2
- 70 to 90 percent if it’s diagnosed and treated in stage 3
- 90 to 95 percent if it’s diagnosed and treated in stage 4
In total, about 70 percent of people with ovarian cancer experience a recurrence. Some people experience multiple recurrences.
Possible symptoms of recurrent ovarian cancer include:
- heartburn or indigestion
- constipation or diarrhea
- abdominal pain or discomfort
Your doctor may also detect signs of recurrence during follow-up appointments, which you would have scheduled after initial treatment brought the cancer into remission.
Follow-up blood tests may show that you have elevated levels of CA-125. CA-125 is a protein that tends to be elevated in the presence of ovarian cancer.
Signs of recurrence may also appear during imaging studies or physical exams.
If you develop recurrent ovarian cancer, your doctor’s recommended treatment plan will partly depend on:
- your treatment goals and priorities
- the time that’s passed since your last cancer treatment
- the type of treatment that you previously received
- your overall health
Depending on these factors, your doctor’s recommended treatment plan may recommend one or more of the following:
- chemotherapy or other biologic therapies, which may shrink or help slow the growth of the cancer and prolong your survival
- surgery, which may help reduce the size of the cancer and relieve symptoms
- palliative care, which may help relieve symptoms
If you previously received platinum-based chemotherapy to treat the cancer and your last dose of chemo was administered within the past 6 months, the cancer will be considered platinum-resistant. Your doctor may try to treat the recurrent cancer with another type of chemotherapy drug.
If you were previously treated with platinum-based chemotherapy and your last dose of chemo was administered more than 6 months ago, the cancer may be classified as platinum-sensitive. Your doctor may prescribe platinum-based chemotherapy again, along with other types of medication.
Reading other people’s stories and thoughts about living with ovarian cancer may help you have a different perspective on your diagnosis. You may also find that it helps to be reminded that you’re not alone.
To learn about the experiences of others who’ve been diagnosed with recurrent ovarian cancer, consider reading some of the personal accounts posted at:
- National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
- SHARE Cancer Support
- Canadian Cancer Survivor Network (Canada)
- Ovarian Cancer Action (UK)
- Target Ovarian Cancer (UK)
Although multiple treatments are available, recurrent ovarian cancer is hard to cure.
One small study in the Journal of Clinical Gynecology & Obstetrics found that women with recurrent ovarian cancer survived for an average of 32 months after the cancer returned.
Your doctor can help you learn more about your outlook with recurrent ovarian cancer. They can also help you weigh the potential benefits and risks of different treatment approaches.
Your doctor may also refer you to a mental health counselor or support group to help you manage the emotional and social challenges of living with cancer.
You may also find it helpful to:
- connect with others with ovarian cancer through OCRA’s Ovarian Cancer Community
- access one-to-one peer support through OCRA’s Woman to Woman Program
- sign up for an online support group or connect with a trained counselor through CancerCare
- search the American Cancer Society’s database for other support resources
Reaching out for support from your treatment team and other support resources may help you cope with the challenges of the diagnosis.
Let your doctor know right away if you develop potential signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer recurrence.
If they suspect the cancer has returned, they may conduct a physical exam, order blood tests, and use imaging studies to check for recurrence.
If you receive a diagnosis of recurrent ovarian cancer, your doctor can help you understand your treatment options. They can also help you set realistic goals and expectations for treatment.