Ovarian cancer is a nasty disease – a bully. It sneaks up on many women with subtle signs and symptoms that are often overlooked or overshadowed by the daily stresses of life. To make matters even more complex, many ovarian cancer patients are at risk of developing lymphedema after treatment.
Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer
According to MOCA (Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance), the following are signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (feeling like you always have to go or having to go often)
Furthermore, current standard of care may include surgery with removal of lymph nodes which places women at risk for lymphedema. Lymphedema is a swelling disease that has no cure, and can occur after damage to, or removal of, lymph nodes. It can have significant psychological, financial, emotional, and health consequences.
In a recent study, 40.8% of women with ovarian cancer complained of current or past symptoms of lower extremity lymphedema. Shockingly, only half of those of women had a general knowledge of lymphedema after the removal of lymph nodes during surgery.
Education & Prevention
As a certified lymphedema therapist, I am often shocked at the small amount of education that is offered to patients after the removal of lymph nodes. I work regularly with breast cancer patients, and advocate strongly for early education and intervention to decrease lymphedema risk and disease progression.
Education about risk factors and early signs and symptoms of lymphedema can only help empower these women. Adding lymphedema to their list when it may be preventable or stopped at an earlier, less intrusive stage, seems counter-intuitive to say the least.
If you have ovarian cancer or know anyone who does, ask your doctor about your risk of lymphedema. If lymph nodes were removed, be your own advocate and request a referral to a lymphedema therapist. We are here to help.