Ovarian Cancer: From Testing to Treatment

Ovarian cancer is an incredibly difficult journey for patients and caregivers alike. Every instance is different, but each one starts with the crucial first step of diagnosis through an ovarian cancer test, then moves to the next stage: treatment.
Updated on September 22, 2023
ovarian cancer

Throughout this journey, you may feel confused, scared, and overwhelmed—and you have every right to be. Sometimes, the key to coping is taking it one day, one step at a time. To start, you may find that learning more about the process of testing and treatment can reduce your anxiety and give you a better idea of what to expect.

Let’s examine each stage in that journey and offer some suggestions about how to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty you may understandably feel.

Experiencing Cancer-Like Symptoms?

Ovarian cancer can be very hard to detect in the early stages. There may be no obvious symptoms at all. However, in more advanced stages, there are several common symptoms and signs. These may include:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Quickly feeling full when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort in the pelvis area
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • A frequent need to pee

As you can tell, these are very generic symptoms. They can be caused by a number of other conditions that are much more common than ovarian cancer. However, if these symptoms are new, persist for more than a few weeks, or worsen over time, your doctor needs to hear about them. Early detection of ovarian cancer greatly improves the chances of successful treatment.

Testing for Ovarian Cancer

Once your doctor has evaluated your symptoms and suspects ovarian cancer could be the culprit, it’s time to begin testing. This may involve multiple stages.

First, you may undergo a pelvic examination to check for signs of ovarian cancer, like an enlarged ovary or fluid in the abdomen. If your doctor finds any issues, she may order further testing, like an ultrasound or CT scan to get a visual of your ovaries in greater detail.

If the scans raise concern, you may need to undergo a blood test to screen for biomarkers that suggest the presence of ovarian cancer cells. Your doctor will be looking for elevated levels of a specific antigen: CA-125.

However, other conditions can cause high levels of this same antigen. So, your doctor will likely want to move on to a test that will provide a definitive answer: a biopsy.

During a biopsy, a sample of tissue or fluid is removed from the suspected affected area and examined under a microscope. Typically, this is a surgical procedure performed by a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor specializing in treating female reproductive cancers.

Don’t worry—this isn’t a major surgery. You’ll probably be given a local anesthetic, and the biopsy can be carried out using a one- to two-inch needle. It usually only takes between 10-30 minutes and should be completely painless.

You shouldn’t have to wait long for ovarian cancer biopsy results. They could be ready in as little as two to ten days, depending on demand and your chosen healthcare provider.

Coping with Anxiety while Awaiting Test Results

Waiting for test results can be a very stressful experience, even if it’s only a few days. It’s understandable to feel helpless during a period of uncertainty when the outcome is so unknowable, yet so important. Here are a few strategies to cope while you wait:

Stay active

Physical activity can help manage anxiety. Whether it’s a brisk walk, yoga, or any other form of exercise you enjoy, staying active can help take your mind off the test results.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation can help you stay grounded in the present moment and keep your mind from spiraling into worry. Apps and online tutorials can guide you through this process if you’re new to it.

Connect with others

Share your worries and concerns with trusted friends or family. Speaking about what you’re going through can provide comfort. Support groups, whether in-person or online, can also be beneficial.

Limit the ‘Googling’

It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of information, which might only heighten your anxiety. Try to limit your internet research and rely on credible sources when needed.

Seek professional help

If your anxiety feels overwhelming, consider speaking with a mental health professional. They can provide strategies to help manage your anxiety effectively.


Make sure to prioritize sleep, eat a healthy diet, and do activities you enjoy to lift your spirits.

Receiving your Diagnosis

When the waiting is done, you’ll receive your diagnosis. As with most conditions, it’s not so simple as a “positive” or “negative” result. If you do have ovarian cancer, there are several possible categories it can fall under:

Benign tumor

This means that a growth is present, but it’s not cancerous. These tumors don’t spread to other parts of the body and are usually not life-threatening.

Borderline tumors

These are abnormal cells that aren’t quite cancerous, but are a little more serious than benign tumors. They’re typically confined to the ovary and can be treated effectively with surgery.

Invasive ovarian cancer

This is when cancerous cells are found in the ovary. The cancer can spread to other parts of the body if not treated. It can be further classified based on the stage and grade of the cancer:

  • Stages: This tells you how far the cancer has spread. It ranges from stage I (where cancer is confined to one or both ovaries) to stage IV (where cancer has spread to distant sites beyond the abdomen and pelvis).
  • Grades: This refers to how much the cancer cells look like normal cells when viewed under a microscope. Low-grade cancers may look like normal cells and tend to grow more slowly, while high-grade cancers look very different from normal cells and often grow rapidly.

In addition to these, there are different types of ovarian cancer, such as epithelial ovarian cancer, germ cell cancer, and stromal cell cancer, each of which has different implications for treatment and prognosis. We’ve created an article to talk through these different varieties and what they mean.

As your doctor tells you about your diagnosis, don’t hold back from asking questions and getting clarification on details that aren’t clear to you. The better you understand your diagnosis, the better you’ll understand your treatment options.

From Diagnosis to Treatment

Once a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is confirmed, the focus shifts to the ovarian cancer treatment stage. Your treatment plan is tailored to you based on several factors, including the type and stage of ovarian cancer, your overall health, and even your personal preferences.

It’s likely your doctor will want to begin with surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible. This may involve removing one or both ovaries, fallopian tubes, the uterus, adjacent lymph nodes, and other abdominal tissues where the cancer might have spread.

Following surgery, most women will undergo chemotherapy, which uses drugs to kill the remaining cancer cells. Depending on the stage and type of cancer, some women might receive chemotherapy before surgery.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common treatments you might receive:

  1. Surgery: This is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer, aimed at removing as much of the cancer as possible. It often involves the removal of one or both of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, nearby lymph nodes, and other areas where the cancer has spread.
  2. Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy drugs are usually given after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might be left. Sometimes, it’s used before surgery to shrink the cancer.
  3. Targeted therapy: These drugs are designed to target specific functions in cancer cells to block their growth and spread. They’re often used if the cancer returns after initial treatments.
  4. Immunotherapy: This treatment helps enhance the body’s natural defenses to combat cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a lab to improve or restore immune system function
  5. Hormone therapy: Certain types of ovarian cancers rely on hormones to grow. Hormone therapy is designed to cut off the supply of hormones or block their effects.
  6. Radiation therapy: While not as commonly used for ovarian cancer, in certain circumstances it may be used to kill cancer cells.

Your doctor will guide you in deciding on the best treatment course for your situation, so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The timeline from testing to treatment varies, but typically spans several weeks. Treatment will last as long as it needs to. After treatment, you should continue with regular follow-up visits to monitor for signs that your cancer is returning.

Supporting Treatment with Positive Behaviors

As you treat your ovarian cancer, it’s a good time to start adopting some positive habits. Lifestyle changes of all sizes can help maximize your treatment’s chance of success.

Adopting a Healthy Diet

Maintaining a balanced, nutritious diet can help keep the body strong and aid in recovery. Talk to a dietitian who can tell you more about what to eat during and after treatment.

Engaging in Regular Physical Activity

Regular exercise can help maintain strength, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. Be sure to talk to your doctor about what sort of activity is safe for you, and how much.

Following the Treatment Plan

It’s very important to stick to your treatment plan exactly as prescribed by the doctor. Attend all your appointments, take medications as instructed, and tell your doctor about any side effects or other concerns.

Emotional Support

Joining a support group, speaking with a counselor, or confiding in loved ones can help deal with the emotional stress of a cancer diagnosis.

Quitting Smoking and Limiting Alcohol

If you smoke or drink, now is the perfect time to cut back or stop. Both activities can weaken the immune system and make treatment less effective.

Getting Adequate Rest

Good sleep is essential for recovery and healing. Your illness and treatments can make it hard to sleep at night, so don’t feel bad about taking naps during the day.

Staying Hydrated

Drinking plenty of fluids can help manage some side effects of treatment.

Attending Regular Check-ups

Don’t miss a follow-up visit with your doctor if you can help it. Properly monitoring your health means you’ll be able to spot any changes early. That will give your doctor plenty of time to adjust your treatment, if necessary.

Staying Informed

Learn as much as possible about your condition. The more informed you are, the more confident you’ll be about making decisions about your care. Ask your doctor about trusted resources you can use to learn more.

Cancer treatments and responses vary greatly from person to person. These behaviors won’t guarantee a specific outcome, but they won’t make your situation worse either.

Possible Outcomes

When your first round of treatment is finished, your doctor will run some tests to see how effective it was. If there are no signs of cancer—congratulations! You’re in remission. Remember to attend regular follow-up visits with your doctor to monitor for any signs of recurrence.

If the treatment wasn’t successful, you’ll discuss possible alternatives with your doctor and decide on a new plan. If this happens, don’t give up hope. There are multiple paths to recovery from ovarian cancer, so let yourself be open to them.

The Talcum Powder Controversy and Ovarian Cancer

In recent years, the possible link between ovarian cancer and talc-based baby powder has shocked the nation. Studies suggest that prolonged use of talcum powder in the genital area might increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer. These concerns were raised years ago, but manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson have only recently taken action to protect their customers by removing talcum powder from their baby powder formula.

This is unacceptable and never should have happened in the first place. Thousands of lawsuits have been brought against Johnson & Johnson, alleging they failed to warn their customers about the potential risks of their products

Do you suspect your ovarian cancer diagnosis was caused by using baby powder? Join the Many. Whether you decide to join the legal action against those responsible or not, we can help you make sense of your situation and provide the resources you need to get through it.

If you’d like to add your voice to the many standing up to Johnson & Johnson, we can review your case for free to learn if you may qualify for a settlement. If you do, we’ll connect you with the best legal care available who will do all the work of filing and fighting your case. You won’t pay a dime unless you’re awarded compensation.

Join the Many is here to provide a free, no obligation case review to determine if you may be eligible for a settlement. If you are, we’ll carefully match you with the best attorney for your case. There are no legal fees unless you win compensation. Contact us today to get started.

More Resources

Cancer Fighting Recipes

Healthy recipes for people affected by cancer.

Ovarian Cancer Resources

We’re proud to partner with the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) to provide resources and guidance related to your health.​

ovarian cancer

Your Ovarian Cancer Questions Answered

Every situation is different, and so no one has all the answers. However, we’ve attempted to answer some of the most common ones to help you or your loved one navigate your new reality.

ovarian cancer

General Ovarian Cancer Information

Ovarian cancer is the top killer of women with gynecological cancers, and the fifth most common cause of death among women overall. Unfortunately, most cases are identified late, leading to a low survival rate.

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