Coping With Ovarian Cancer Treatment Side Effects


Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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Surgery is the main treatment for most ovarian cancers. Other options include chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Each of these options has benefits. They also have side effects. Here are some suggestions for coping with ovarian cancer treatment side effects.


In most cases, doctors typically remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. This affects a woman’s sexual and reproductive function. It eliminates the ability to become pregnant. It also removes the main source of female sex hormones. As a result, premenopausal women can experience symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, sleep problems, and vaginal dryness.

Strategies for managing menopausal symptoms include:

  • Dressing in layers, using small fans, and sipping cold drinks during hot flashes

  • Using a fan at night, keeping your room cool, and having an icepack handy for night sweats

  • Establishing a nighttime routine and sleep schedule

  • Getting regular exercise, eating healthy, and maintaining a healthy weight

  • Practicing relaxation techniques and stress management to combat anxiety and mood changes

  • Using vaginal lubricants and moisturizers to ease vaginal dryness

  • Getting regular sexual stimulation to help maintain vaginal health and blood flow

  • Finding out your bone density status and working with your doctor to maintain bone health

  • Using medications other than hormones to ease symptoms


Chemotherapy—or chemo—affects everyone differently. It depends on the type and stage of cancer, your general health before starting chemotherapy, and the specific drug and dose. Always call your doctor if you experience side effects. There may be causes other than chemotherapy drugs. Or your doctor may be able to adjust your chemo dose. There may also be prescriptions medicines, such as anti-nausea medicines, to help.

While there are countless drugs and combinations, there are a few common side effects and issues:

  • Appetite changes: Eat what’s appealing and try eating small meals throughout the day. Have someone else cook to avoid the cooking smells. Eat cold or warm food, not hot. Use plastic utensils if food tastes like metal.

  • Diarrhea: Eat small, easy-to-digest meals. Try broths, bananas, applesauce, crackers, Jell-O, noodles, eggs, and yogurt. Avoid raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, and greasy, fried foods. Drink extra fluids to avoid dehydration.

  • Fatigue: Light exercise, such as yoga or walking can help. Make sure you are eating right, adjusting your work or activity schedule, and resting as well.

  • Fever and infection: Avoid large crowds of people and always practice proper hand washing. Wash raw fruits and vegetables, avoid people who are sick, and have someone else clean up after pets. Ask your doctor when to call about a fever.

  • Hair loss: Talk to your doctor before starting your treatment to find out if hair loss is likely. If so, consider visiting a wig specialist before treatment starts. Insurance often covers wigs. You may also want to buy colorful scarves and start cutting your hair short. After hair loss, remember sunscreen or hats if you go uncovered.

  • Memory problems: Have a reliable daily routine, use calendars and alarms, and keep a notepad handy. Explain memory lapses to people and have someone join you for appointments. Puzzles, word games, and reading can also help keep your brain active.

  • Mouth and throat sores: Try using a straw and sucking ice chips. Cold soft or liquid dairy products can help coat your mouth. Avoid mouthwashes containing alcohol and acidic foods.

  • Nausea: Eat small, light meals. Many people find starches most appealing. Try not to let your stomach get totally empty and avoid strong smells.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses specific markers to identify and attack cancer cells wi