Key Points about Recurrent Ovarian Cancer

  • Recurrent ovarian cancer is when ovarian cancer recurs (returns) after successful treatment.
  • Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy and physical exams to diagnose this type of cancer.
  • Surgery, targeted therapy, hormone therapy and/or chemotherapy are treatment options for recurrent ovarian cancer.


Ovarian cancer  is cancer that affects the ovaries – the female reproductive organs that contain eggs. Ovarian cancer is a type of gynecologic cancer. Recurrent ovarian cancer occurs when the cancer comes back, even after successful treatment. Recurrent ovarian cancer can either come back within the ovaries or in another location elsewhere in the body.

The likelihood of recurrence depends primarily on the stage of ovarian cancer at the time of initial diagnosis:

  • Stage 1 – 10 percent chance of recurrence
  • Stage 2 – 30 percent chance of recurrence
  • Stage 3 – 70 to 90 percent chance of recurrence
  • Stage 4 – 90 to 95 percent chance of recurrence

Recurrent ovarian cancer causes 

Recurrent ovarian cancer is caused by ovarian cancer that returns after successful treatment. 

Recurrent ovarian cancer risk factors

There are factors that can increase your risk for developing recurrent ovarian cancer, including:

  • Being a smoker
  • Being older, especially post-menopausal
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family cancer syndrome
  • Having a family history of breast cancer, ovarian cancer or colorectal cancer
  • Having had breast cancer
  • Having later-stage ovarian cancer when initially diagnosed
  • Having used in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • Having your first baby after age 35
  • Never having had a successful pregnancy
  • Taking hormone therapy after menopause

Recurrent ovarian cancer symptoms

Signs and symptoms of recurrent ovarian cancer can include:

  • Back pain
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling full very quickly after eating a small amount
  • Feeling like you always need to urinate (urgency)
  • Needing to urinate very often (frequency)
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in your pelvic area or abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Upset stomach

Recurrent ovarian cancer diagnosis

Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:

  • Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. 
  • Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer. 
  • Blood test – your doctor sends a sample of your blood to the laboratory for close analysis. Lab technicians can determine how well your organs are working, which can indicate whether you have cancer.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the cancer.
  • Ultrasound – this type of imaging test uses sound waves to create detailed images of the inside of your body. The doctor can use that image to determine the size and location of the cancer.

Recurrent ovarian cancer treatment

Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible. 
  • Chemotherapy – you may need to also undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is taken orally (by mouth) through a pill or intravenously (through a vein).
  • Hormone therapy – in this treatment, hormones or drugs that block hormones are used to fight cancer.
  • Targeted therapy – this treatment involves taking medications that target specific weaknesses of the cancerous cells, working to destroy them.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.

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