Managing the Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer with Palliative Care

By Andrew Esch, MD

When you are living with ovarian cancer, the symptoms and side effects can take a toll. Bloating, pain, nausea and fatigue can stop you from doing the things you enjoy, and can prevent you from keeping up with your treatments. Ovarian cancer can also have a big effect on your emotional health, body image and sexual functioning – all of which can create stress for you and your family.

But you don’t have to face this alone. Treating the pain, symptoms and stress of cancer is just as important as treating the cancer itself. Palliative care can help.

Palliative care (pronounced pal-lee-uh-tiv) is specialized medical care for people living with serious illness, like ovarian cancer. This type of care is focused on relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. Palliative care is provided by a specially-trained team of doctors, nurses and other specialists who work together with a patient’s other doctors to provide an extra layer of support. It is appropriate at any age and at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment.

Get Palliative Care Early

If you have unmanaged pain or other symptoms, you should ask for a consult with the palliative care team. Palliative care can even come in soon after your ovarian cancer diagnosis. In fact, the main organization representing cancer doctors, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, recommends that patients with cancer should receive palliative care early in the disease course, and alongside treatment for the cancer.

Your palliative care team will also take the time to work with your other doctors to coordinate your care and help you match your treatment options to your goals. They will help you weigh the pros and cons of different treatments, so that you can make informed decisions about your care.

Treatments for ovarian cancer vary based on the stage of the disease, but often include surgery and aggressive chemotherapy – which often come with a host of distressing side effects. Palliative care can relieve pain and other symptoms, help you stay out of the hospital and the emergency department, and reduce unnecessary tests and procedures. Your palliative care team can recommend a number of anti-nausea treatments, for example, and can help you with dietary changes to ease the discomfort of bloating. Your palliative care team will also ensure that you and your family have the emotional support you need. Some studies indicate that people who receive palliative care feel better and often live longer too.

You can learn more about palliative care for ovarian cancer by watching this webinar, hosted by the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance; and this webinar on You can also listen to this podcast featuring a first-hand story about how palliative care restored one woman’s quality of life in many ways.

If you are living with ovarian cancer, ask your doctor about a palliative care referral – the earlier, the better. Palliative care is available in most hospitals and it is growing quickly in outpatient clinics. In some areas, palliative care teams are available for home visits. You can also search this Provider Directory for palliative care resources in your area.

Dr. Esch is medical education consultant to the Center to Advance Palliative Care. A palliative care specialist, Dr. Esch focuses on improving quality of life for patients and their families as they face serious illness. Dr. Esch earned his medical degree from the University of Buffalo.



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