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Pain and Ovarian Cancer

Posted on September 07, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Howard Goodman, M.D.
Article written by
Tristan Jesby

Abdominal pain may be an early symptom of ovarian cancer, while other types of pain may be the result of later-stage disease or certain treatments for ovarian cancer. No matter the cause, people with ovarian cancer can experience pain in different ways and in different places. The good news is that there are ways to manage this pain.

If you experience pain with ovarian cancer, talk to your health care team about how to handle it. As your health care team manages treatment for the cancer itself, they can help you actively manage any pain you experience. It may take some time to figure out the right pain management plan, but you can play a role in finding the best path forward.

Types of Pain From Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer can cause different types of pain. People with ovarian cancer commonly experience general abdominal and pelvic pain. You may also notice lower back pain, pain during sex, and stomach pains.

Often, pain is more noticeable in advanced stages of ovarian cancer (when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body). Cancer that spreads to the lining of the abdominal cavity may lead to ascites (fluid buildup and swelling) that causes pain and bloating. Tumors on the ovaries may sometimes block the bowels, leading to gastrointestinal pain.

After treatment begins, these pains may lessen. Sometimes, though, treatments may lead to further pain symptoms.

Pain From Chemotherapy and Other Cancer Treatments

People with ovarian cancer may also experience pain as a side effect of their cancer treatment.

Bone Pain

Many MyOvarianCancerTeam members have shared their experiences with intermittent pain — particularly bone pain — after chemotherapy and other drug treatments. A common prescription medication called Neulasta (pegfilgrastim) may cause bone pain because it stimulates activity of the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells.

As one member said, “Finally I’m enjoying some pain-free days. After my first round of chemotherapy and the injection the day after, I wanted to give up. The pain in your bones is excruciating!” Another shared, “I had knee pain the first night after injection, but I’m okay since, as far as bone pain is concerned.”

The location of the pain you experience with ovarian cancer may change depending on where you are in your treatment. It may even change from day to day or over the course of a single day. As one MyOvarianCancerTeam member wrote, “It was a hard day. I had a lot of weakness in my legs. Then, tonight, I had terrible bone pain in my legs and hands.”

In some cases, it might even be hard to determine the cause of pain. As a member stated, “Some days, I don’t know if my pain is from my fibro, arthritis, Neulasta, or chemo!”

Pain may also be an all-over experience. “Not a good day — lots of pain all over,” said one member. Another shared, “I also had excruciating pain from head to toe with my first dose of Neulasta.”

Neuropathy

A long-term effect of chemotherapy is peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage that can cause tingling pain. One member shared, “I started having tingly feet and foot pain last night. Drove me nuts.” Another wrote, “I am praying this goes away, as the pain and numbness in my feet and fingertips is annoying. I had sandals on at work and couldn’t tell if my feet were in my shoes at times.”

Surgical Pain

Some people go through an initial surgery to remove cancerous tissue before undergoing chemotherapy. Pain after surgery may last for several weeks.

One member shared their experience with surgical pain: “My day was great until the dreaded after-dinner severe upper abdominal muscle pain. This drives me nuts. I’m six weeks post-surgical debulking. Get better already!”

Managing Pain in Ovarian Cancer

When you’re in pain, it’s important to listen to your body. Keep track of your symptoms and your pain, including when it starts, where it occurs, and how it feels. From there, you can discuss your pain treatment options with your health care team.

Adjusting Treatment

It could be helpful to keep a chemotherapy diary to track how you feel during and after chemotherapy doses or cycles — especially if you suspect the pain may be due to treatment. This record can help provide your health care team with more insight about the causes of your pain and how to better manage it.

It is important to keep your health care team in the loop when considering any pain management regimens. If you feel that a certain cancer medication or pain medication is not helping or even worsening pain symptoms, advocate for yourself and ask to change your treatment plan.

For example, if your medication is administered through a vein (intravenously), then a device like a port may help lessen associated pain. As one MyOvarianCancerTeam member says, “The port is the way to go. It makes things a little easier for sure. By the way, when it’s time to get chemo and the nurses are accessing your port, they will ask if you want the cold numbing spray. Say yes!”

Over-the-Counter and Prescription Pain Medications

If you experience abdominal pain or gastrointestinal pain, your health care team may recommend various over-the-counter or prescription pain medications to help manage it.

For bone pain, some doctors may recommend Claritin (loratadine), an over-the-counter antihistamine.

If you experience painful constipation during cancer treatment, other over-the-counter solutions may help you find relief. A few members of MyOvarianCancerTeam have found success taking stool softeners daily to stay regular. Other members have found relief through laxative drinks. As one member wrote, “Smooth Move herbal tea works to relieve constipation.”

Rest

Your body is going through a lot. Sometimes, the best thing for you to do is to take it easy. One member shared, “At the peak of my pain, I lie down, get my dog and my soft blanket, put on a comedy TV show, and try to just sleep.”

Acupuncture or Massage

For peripheral neuropathy, you may find manual pain relief techniques such as massage and acupuncture to be helpful. Be sure to consult with your health care team before trying either approach.

Medical Marijuana

Research is fairly new regarding medical marijuana's effect on cancer symptoms. The American Cancer Society advocates for further scientific research on the subject. Emerging studies are showing that marijuana can also be particularly helpful with alleviating nausea during chemotherapy.

Meet Your Team

Everyone with ovarian cancer has their own unique story to tell. Though it may feel like you’re alone on this journey, there are many others sharing their experiences with ovarian cancer and how they’ve managed their pain.

MyOvarianCancerTeam is the social network for people with ovarian cancer and their loved ones. Here, you can ask questions, share advice, and listen to the lived experiences of those managing day-to-day life with their diagnosis.

What have you done to alleviate pain caused by ovarian cancer? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on MyOvarianCancerTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Howard Goodman, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and specializes in the surgical management of women with gynecologic cancer. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Learn more about him here.
Tristan Jesby graduated from Quinnipiac University's five-year MAT program with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in secondary education. Learn more about him here.

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