Leg pain may not be a common symptom of ovarian cancer, but it can still occur with the condition. Some people with ovarian cancer have reported leg pain as a medication side effect or an unrelated health issue. One member of MyOvarianCancerTeam wrote, “I have lots of pain, including shooting sensations through my lower extremities and some in my hands and wrist.”
Sometimes leg pain involves swelling or muscle weakness. In addition, people with ovarian cancer may have lower bone density, making them more prone to fractures. Getting to the root of the problem is essential to avoid potentially dangerous complications.
Leg pain is a nonspecific symptom with a range of causes, not necessarily related to ovarian cancer or its treatment. Cancer-related pain may arise from a pelvic mass putting pressure on nerves and blood vessels or from metastasis (cancer spread), or it might be related to treatments such as radiation therapy. However, leg pain more commonly stems from overuse or keeping your leg in the same position for too long.
Injuries or exercise can also lead to muscle strains, stress fractures, tendinitis (inflamed tendons), or shin splints. You may also experience leg pain if you’re dehydrated or have an electrolyte imbalance or nutritional deficiency.
Other potential causes of leg pain include:
One of the more serious causes of leg pain is a blood clot. People with ovarian and other types of cancer may be more prone to blood clots. Additionally, if fatigue from ovarian cancer treatment has made you more sedentary, a blood clot could form in your legs.
“I would ask for the Doppler test,” advised a MyOvarianCancerTeam member. “I had a clot and really had minor symptoms, including some swelling in one foot that I didn’t notice, but my nurse did. I have been on blood thinners for two years now. They had reduced my dose, but then I developed another clot, so they had to increase it. I got both clots during chemo. The fact that I got another clot while on blood thinners concerned the doctors. Apparently, I will be on blood thinners the rest of my life.”
Another member suspected that peripheral neuropathy — pain and numbness in the hands and feet — was causing their leg pain, but they still needed a diagnosis: “Chemotherapy gave me bad neuropathy in my feet. I tried drugs like gabapentin, but they didn’t seem to help and made me feel fatigued all of the time. I am hoping to find something that will work. I take B vitamins. From my research, I have concluded this is peripheral neuropathy. I am not diabetic and have had nerve testing done to confirm the extent of the damage.”
Medications that may cause leg pain as a side effect include diuretics (water pills), statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs), certain blood pressure medications (such as amlodipine), osteoporosis medications (such as bisphosphonates), neuropathic medications (such as gabapentin and pregabalin), steroids, and birth control pills.
Several MyOvarianCancerTeam members have reported experiencing leg pain after taking certain medications, including the ovarian cancer drugs bevacizumab (Avastin) and gemcitabine (Gezmar). Their comments:
Leg pain isn’t listed as among the side effects of bevacizumab, but this drug can slightly increase the risk of blood clots compared with chemotherapy alone. Gemcitabine can cause swelling in the lower legs and feet, which can be painful, as well as muscle aches, stiffness, and cramps.
Talk to your doctor about your medications to see if leg pain is a potential side effect. Some side effects don’t require medical attention and may go away as your body adjusts to the medication. If symptoms persist or interfere with your daily life, your health care provider may be able to lower your dose, switch you to another drug, or suggest additional treatments to address side effects.
It’s always a good idea to let your health care provider know about any new or sudden symptoms like leg pain. They’ll want to know if the pain is in one leg or both, what it feels like, when it occurs, and how severe it is. Your doctor can also assess your risk factors for other causes of leg pain and help select treatments that don’t interact with your cancer care plan.
Signs that leg pain is serious:
After discussing the details of your symptoms and doing a physical exam, your doctor may recommend imaging tests to check for underlying problems. If nerve compression or muscle tension is contributing to your leg pain, physical therapy exercises and stretches can help relieve pressure on nerves and improve muscle flexibility.
Practices like deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation exercises can help manage pain by reducing stress and promoting a sense of well-being. “Acupuncture really helps me with my neuropathy,” shared a MyOvarianCancerTeam member.
Your health care provider can refer you to palliative care specialists who offer these additional services to manage pain. One MyOvarianCancerTeam member reminded others, “You don’t have to wait if you want to get palliative care; you can do that while still on chemo to help with side effects.”
After talking with your doctor to ensure that your leg pain isn’t a more serious issue that needs treatment, you can take some measures at home to help you feel better.
Resting and elevating your leg can help it heal from overuse injuries. You can also ice it for 15 minutes four times a day. For cramps, stretch and gently massage the area. Over-the-counter pain medications, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can reduce pain. Stay hydrated to maintain good circulation and prevent muscle cramps that contribute to leg pain.
For swelling or circulation problems, try wearing compression stockings to improve blood flow and reduce leg pain. Choosing comfortable, supportive shoes can help minimize strain on the legs and feet.
If strategies like these don’t do enough to ease your leg pain, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your health care team. They’re there to address all your health concerns and help you have your best quality of life while living with ovarian cancer.
MyOvarianCancerTeam is the social network for people with ovarian cancer and their loved ones. On MyOvarianCancerTeam, more than 6,400 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with ovarian cancer.
How does cancer-related pain affect your quality of life? Was leg pain something you experienced as a sign of ovarian cancer in the early or advanced stage or during remission? What strategies did you try to help relieve the pain? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.