Information for younger women

Dealing with the news

It might be a shock that this has happened to you and your diagnosis may feel like it has come out of nowhere. You may feel angry, full of panic or want to know why you have got cancer. Some women find it a relief to know what’s happening, especially if you have been going back and forth to the GP for different tests. You may also find that your emotions change very quickly or take you by surprise. These are all normal feelings but you don’t have to experience them alone. Talking to someone about how you’re feeling can help you to deal with what’s happening. There is a lot of support available, and most cancer teams have support staff who can help you to acknowledge and handle your feelings.

You may feel you’re thrown into a whirlwind of new information and decisions. Taking someone with you to your appointments is a good way of ensuring that nothing is missed. A family member or friend may be able to ask questions and remember things that you don’t. It may be worth jotting down a few questions before you go into the appointment and making notes about the answers you are given. If you do feel confused, or it feels like your doctor is talking in a language that you don’t understand, ask him or her to slow down or start from the beginning.

Sarah, diagnosed aged 40

“I had never heard of ovarian cancer.It happened so quickly and was such a whirlwind it was like being swept up in a tornado.” 

You can ask to see the scans, or for your doctor to draw you a diagram, if you think it will help you get a better understanding of what’s happening to your body.

Which ovarian cancers are more common in younger women? 

Ovarian cancer is cancer arising from cells in and around the ovary. There are several different types, depending on which part of the ovary they arise from.

The most common types are epithelial cancers, which arise in the lining of the ovary, fallopian tubes or the peritoneum, (the lining that covers the organs inside your abdomen).

Although figures suggest that fallopian tube cancer is rare, it is now thought that many of the most common type of epithelial ovarian cancers (high grade serous) actually start in the far end of the fallopian tube, rather than the surface of the ovary. When we use the term ovarian cancer we are also referring to primary peritoneal cancer and fallopian tube cancer, as these cancers are treated in the same way.

Although it is possible for younger women to get epithelial cancers, these usually affect women who are over the age of 45 years.

In younger women, the more common types are those below:

Borderline tumours

These are tumours that are neither completely benign nor cancerous. The cells are slowly dividing and are not likely to be invasive. The treatment usually consists of surgery only.

Germ cell tumours

These tumours begin in the egg cells of the ovary. With this type of tumour it may be possible just to remove the affected ovary and fallopian tube to allow you to have children in the future. There is specific chemotherapy for germ cell tumours which varies from that used in other types of ovarian cancer. Types of germ cell tumours include yolk sac tumours, embryonal carcinoma, immature teratoma, choriocarcinoma, and dysgerminoma.

Granulosa and sertoli-leydig cell tumours

These are very rare cancers that arise in the supportive tissue of the ovary.

Who will be treating me? 

You should be treated and looked after by a multi-disciplinary team (MDT) made up of specialists in gynae-oncology. They will meet regularly to discuss your care and treatment:

oncologist

A doctor who specialises in non-surgical cancer treatments. They are sometimes referred to as a clinical oncologist (who specialises in radiotherapy) or medical oncologist (who specialises in chemotherapy and other drug treatments).

surgeon

If you’re having surgery, a surgeon will perform the operation. They are sometimes referred to as a gynaecological oncology surgeon.

clinical nurse specialist (CNS)

This will be the main person that looks after you from diagnosis onwards. Often referred to as your key worker, you can contact him or her whenever you have any questions or problems.

chemotherapy nurse

If you receive chemotherapy, your chemotherapy nurse will guide you through the process and side effects.

GP

Although not part of the MDT, your GP will still have an important role in your care, particularly after treatment has finished.

You may also have contact with other health professionals including psychologists, counsellors, geneticists, menopause experts, and fertility experts. In addition there are other members of the MDT including pathologists and radiologists who you won’t necessarily meet.

Telling other people

It’s hard to decide what to do about telling your family and friends and you may worry about how they’ll react.

You may feel anxious that they could withdraw from you or feel angry, or that telling them may make things worse. However, many women find that sharing the news helps them to feel better and that the reactions of their family and friends are overwhelmingly supportive. There are sections in this guide to help you tell different people and to help explore the impact of ovarian cancer on these relationships.

Last reviewed: July 2017
Date of next review: July 2020

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