There are several surgical approaches to ovarian cancer. Occasionally, laparoscopy can be used. This involves several small incisions on the abdomen and surgery using long instruments and a camera that looks like a telescope. If a laparotomy is necessary, the surgeon will make a long incision in the wall of the abdomen. If ovarian cancer is detected, the surgeon will then remove some combination of organs and tissue. If both of the ovaries and the fallopian tubes are removed, the procedure is called a salpingo-oophorectomy. If the uterus is removed, the procedure is called a hysterectomy.
The surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes, samples of tissue from the pelvis and abdomen, or the omentum, which is the thin, fatty pad of tissue that covers the intestines. If the cancer has spread, the surgeon removes as much cancer as possible. This is called a “debulking” surgery.
If you have early stage ovarian cancer, the extent of surgery may depend on whether you plan to get pregnant and have children in the future. In some cases, it is possible to remove just one ovary allowing for possible future pregnancies.
It’s not unusual to feel some discomfort for several weeks after surgery. Your provider will prescribe medications to help manage your pain, and give you strict instructions regarding what activities you can do. The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for each woman. It may be several months before you return to normal activities.
If you haven’t gone through menopause yet, the removal of both ovaries will cause surgical menopause, which is characterized by hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and night sweats. These symptoms are caused by the sudden loss of female hormones. Your provider can suggest drugs and lifestyle changes that can help you control these symptoms. Keep in mind that most symptoms do go away or lessen over time.