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Ovarian cancer health centre

Surgery for ovarian cancer

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for women who may have ovarian cancer. It tells you about surgery, a treatment used to diagnose and treat ovarian cancer.

Does it work?

Yes. Surgery is the only way to find out for certain if you have ovarian cancer. If you do have cancer, the surgeon will remove as much of the cancer as possible and find out how far it has spread during the same operation.

What is it?

If you've been told you need surgery because you may have ovarian cancer, you're probably worried about what's going to happen. This can be a big operation, depending on what surgeons find. But you'll likely be able to get out of bed the next day, and you shouldn't have to stay in hospital for more than about a week.

What happens during surgery?

There are two types of operations to check for ovarian cancer. Whichever kind you have, you'll be given a general anaesthetic so you'll sleep through it.

  • During keyhole surgery (laparoscopy), your surgeon makes two small cuts in your abdomen. Tiny instruments and a camera are put through the cuts to get a close look at your ovaries. You should recover faster from this surgery than from standard surgery. But if your surgeon finds cancer, you may need standard surgery afterwards.

  • During standard surgery (laparotomy), your surgeon makes a large cut in your abdomen to look at your ovaries.

Your surgeon will probably choose which type of operation to do based on how strongly he or she suspects that you have ovarian cancer.

  • If your surgeon thinks your risk of having cancer is high, you will probably have standard surgery. This is because the smaller operation (laparoscopy) can cause the cancer to spread along the cuts that the surgeon makes to put the instruments and camera through.

  • If your risk is low, your surgeon may try the smaller operation (laparoscopy) first.

During your surgery (either kind), the following might happen.

  • Your surgeon may not find anything unusual.

  • Your surgeon may find a growth on your ovary. If your surgeon thinks it could be cancer, he or she will probably remove your whole ovary. Surgeons do this because cutting away just a piece of the ovary could let cancer cells spread. Your surgeon will send the growth to the laboratory immediately to check if it is cancer. The results will come back while you are still under the anaesthetic on the operating table.

  • In extremely rare cases, surgeons remove just the cancerous part of the ovary. Your surgeon may do this if your other ovary (the one without the cancer) isn't working properly and you still want to have children.

What happens if the laboratory finds cancer?
Last Updated: March 12, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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