Ovarian Cancer Questions: From Diagnosis to Recovery — Essential Insights for Your Journey

June 6, 2024

Ovarian Cancer Questions: From Diagnosis to Recovery — Essential Insights for Your Journey

Receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, and navigating the journey from diagnosis to recovery can feel daunting. One of the most important aspects of this journey is effective communication with your healthcare team.

While the importance of open communication and transparency cannot be overstated, it’s equally important to remember that it’s okay not to ask all these questions at once or in person. Give yourself time and be patient with yourself as you process this challenging situation.

It’s important to remember that any answer from a doctor can be hard to process, so take notes during your appointments. You may also want to consider recording the conversation, as it can be challenging to take in all the information at once, and many facts may be forgotten. If it’s helpful, have someone in the room with you as you hear this information, so they can take notes for you and provide emotional support.

Ovarian Cancer Questions to Ask

Asking the right questions can empower you to make informed decisions, better understand your condition, and take an active role in your treatment and recovery. In this post, we’ve compiled a list of essential ovarian cancer questions to ask your gynecologic oncologist at various stages of your journey.

Diagnosis and Prognosis

Understanding your diagnosis is the first step in your ovarian cancer journey. Ask your doctor about the specific type and stage of your cancer, as well as what these factors mean for your prognosis and treatment options. Don’t hesitate to inquire about genetic testing and its implications for your family members, as this information can be crucial for both you and your loved ones.

While knowledge is power and it’s essential to know as much as you can about your diagnosis, be mindful of your emotional well-being. These questions can be very painful to ask and receive answers to, so take your time and be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to process the information at your own pace and to lean on your support system when needed.

Here are some ovarian cancer questions you can ask at this stage:

  1. What type of ovarian cancer do I have, and what is the specific stage of my cancer?
  2. What do the cancer grade and stage mean for my prognosis and treatment options?
  3. How aggressive does the cancer appear to be, and how far has it spread?
  4. What are the best, worst, and most likely outcomes I should expect?
  5. Is genetic testing recommended, and what are the implications for my family members?

Remember, it’s okay to take breaks during this conversation if you feel overwhelmed. You can always come back to these questions later or have a loved one ask them on your behalf. Your healthcare team is there to support you not only medically but also emotionally throughout this journey.

Surgical Outcomes and Follow-up

After undergoing surgery, it’s essential to discuss the short and long-term side effects of the procedure with your doctor. Ask about the frequency of follow-up appointments and tests, as well as what long-term maintenance looks like for screening potential recurrences. Understanding the likelihood and potential signs of recurrence can help you stay vigilant and proactive in your post-surgery care.

Here are examples of ovarian cancer questions to ask your oncologist:

  1. What are the short and long-term side effects of a full hysterectomy at my age?
  2. How often will I need to come in for check-ups and follow-up tests after treatment?
  3. What does long-term maintenance look like for screening for potential future recurrences?
  4. What is the likelihood of the cancer recurring, and in instances where it does recur, what are the likely places it shows up?
  5. What signs or symptoms should I watch out for that might indicate a recurrence or complication?

Treatment Options

When discussing treatment options with your doctor, ask about their recommended approach and the reasoning behind it. Inquire about the goals of the treatment plan, as well as any potential risks, side effects, and expected timeline. Don’t hesitate to ask about alternative options, such as intraperitoneal chemotherapy or clinical trials, and how they might benefit your specific case.

  1. Which type of treatment do you recommend, and why?
  2. What is the goal of the recommended treatment plan?
  3. Does the treatment plan or the chance of recurrence differ knowing that all tumors/reproductive organs have been successfully removed?
  4. What are the risks, possible side effects, and expected timeline for each recommended treatment option?
  5. Where will I go for treatment, and how long will it last?
  6. Are there any other treatment options or clinical trials that might be appropriate for me?
  7. How can participating in a clinical trial potentially benefit me, and what are the associated risks?

Integrative Medicine and Supportive Care

In addition to conventional medical treatment, integrative medicine and supportive care can play a vital role in your ovarian cancer journey. Ask your doctor about recommended nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle changes that can support your treatment and recovery. Inquire about complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or massage, and their potential benefits. Remember to discuss available support services, like counseling or palliative care, to address both your physical and emotional needs.

  1. Are there any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle changes I should consider during and after treatment?
  2. Are there any complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies that I should consider alongside medical treatment?
  3. What support services, such as counseling, nutrition advice, or palliative care, are available during and after treatment?
  4. Do you have any recommendations for providers or services to help with both the aesthetic and physical side effects of chemotherapy, such as cold caps?

Quality of Life and Lifestyle

Ovarian cancer treatment can significantly impact your daily life and overall quality of life. Discuss with your doctor how treatment may affect your work, regular activities, and relationships. Ask about recommended dietary changes, physical activity, and intimacy concerns. Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so don’t hesitate to ask about support resources and coping strategies.

  1. How will treatment impact my daily life, work, and regular activities, and for how long?
  2. What should I do if I develop new symptoms during treatment?
  3. Are there any recommended dietary changes or restrictions I should follow during and after treatment?
  4. Is physical activity, exercise, or specific yoga practices safe and advisable during treatment?
  5. How might treatment affect my sexual health and intimacy, and are there resources available to address these concerns?
  6. What support resources are available to help me cope with the psychological impact of my diagnosis and treatment?
  7. Are there any support organizations or ovarian cancer charity groups you recommend for ovarian cancer patients and their caregivers?

Other Considerations to Make

As you navigate your ovarian cancer journey, there may be additional considerations to address with your healthcare team. These might include long-term health concerns, communication strategies, and vaccinations. 

Remember that no question is too small or insignificant. If it matters to you, it’s worth discussing with your doctor.

  1. What are the potential long-term health considerations I should be aware of as a result of my diagnosis and treatment?
  2. How can I best communicate with my healthcare team and stay informed about my treatment progress?
  3. Do I need an updated COVID booster or any other vaccine prior to starting treatment?
  4. Whom should I call if I have additional questions after I leave the office?
  5. Where would you recommend I request a second opinion for this diagnosis?

Remember, this list serves as a starting point for your discussion with your doctor. Feel free to prioritize the questions that are most relevant to your situation and add any other concerns you may have.

Asking questions is a powerful tool in your ovarian cancer journey. By engaging in open, honest communication with your healthcare team, you can take an active role in your treatment, recovery, and overall well-being. Use this list of essential ovarian cancer questions as a starting point for your discussions, and remember that your doctor is there to support you every step of the way. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare team or support networks whenever you need guidance, information, or reassurance.

I want to give a special shout out to the team at Memorial Sloan in New York, who gave me an initial list of questions when we began our journey. This list has expanded and evolved as we talk to more patients, physicians and caregivers. Have a question we should add? Please reach out and let us know.