Symptoms of Cancer After Hysterectomy

If you've had a hysterectomy (surgery to remove your uterus), you might wonder if you can still develop gynecologic cancer. It is possible, but your level of risk depends on the type of procedure. After a hysterectomy, it's important to watch for warning signs of ovarian cancer or a type of cancer that mimics it, called primary peritoneal cancer. Abdominal swelling and bloating are important symptoms that shouldn't be ignored.

This article will discuss signs of cancer post-surgery, as well as complications and risks of hysterectomies.

Cancer After Hysterectomy

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Determining Risk by Procedure Type

Your risk for developing cancer after surgery depends on the type of hysterectomy you had, which may include:

  • Partial hysterectomy: With this procedure, the uterus is removed, but the ovaries are not.
  • Total hysterectomy: This involves removing the uterus and cervix but leaving the ovaries.
  • Total hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy: Surgeons remove the uterus, cervix, both ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

Though studies show it's less likely that you will develop ovarian cancer if your ovaries are removed, it’s still possible.

Even if your ovaries are removed, you can develop primary peritoneal cancer, a cancer that starts in the covering that lines the abdominal organs. This type of cancer mimics ovarian cancer, causes similar symptoms, and is treated the same way.

If your cervix or fallopian tubes were not removed, your risk of developing cancer in these organs is low.

If you had a hysterectomy as a treatment for cancer, you should know that your cancer can still come back. This is called a recurrence.

Lower Risk of Ovarian Cancer

Most women who’ve had a hysterectomy for reasons that don't involve cancer have a low likelihood of developing ovarian cancer, even in cases in which the ovaries are kept. It’s less than a one in 70 lifetime risk. New research has suggested that some cases of ovarian cancer may start in the fallopian tubes, so removing them may decrease your risk.  

Frequent Symptoms

Signs of ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal cancer may not appear until the disease is advanced. Early symptoms are often broad and not very specific, but they may include:

It may be difficult to recognize these as symptoms of cancer, because they mimic symptoms of other illnesses as well.

As the disease progresses, fluid may build up in the abdomen, causing belly discomfort, nausea, vomiting, or shortness of breath.

Spotting Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Symptoms of ovarian cancer often overlap with other, noncancerous diseases. While it may be challenging to tell the difference, ovarian cancer signs tend to be persistent. They also might occur more frequently or be more severe. Let your healthcare provider know if these symptoms persist.

Less Common Symptoms

Other, less common symptoms of ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal cancer include:

Care After Hysterectomy

You'll still need to undergo regular examinations after having a hysterectomy. Though there's no routine screening for ovarian cancer, your healthcare provider may recommend certain tests, like a pelvic exam, blood tests, or imaging tests if cancer is suspected.

Complications

Cancer that develops after a hysterectomy can cause various complications. Your healthcare provider may recommend certain therapies to help you manage these side effects.

Complications of Cancer

If ovarian cancer spreads to different parts of the body, it can cause complications, including:

  • Fatigue: Extreme tiredness and weakness are common.
  • Weight loss: If weight loss is severe, your healthcare provider may suggest that you receive nutrition intravenously.
  • Anemia: A lack of healthy red blood cells can occur.
  • Edema: You may notice swelling, or severe fluid buildup, in your body.
  • Ascites: Collections of fluid that accumulate in the abdominal cavity. They can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as bloating or gastrointestinal problems.
  • Urinary tract or bowel obstruction: If a large tumor blocks your intestines or ureters (the ducts through which urine passes from kidneys to the bladder), you may need a stoma (a hole between the intestine and the outside of the body), a stent (a tiny, flexible, hollow tube), or a nephrostomy tube (a tube running from the kidney to the outside of the body).
  • Pleural effusion: When fluid between the thin membranes that line the lungs and chest cavity builds up, breathing problems may result.

Complications of Hysterectomy

Like all surgeries, a hysterectomy poses risks. Some potential complications include:

Other Issues to Watch For

Many women with ovarian cancer notice a difference in their sexual function or sex drive. Depression is also a common issue.

When to See a Doctor

As a general rule, see your healthcare provider anytime you develop any unusual problems that don’t go away or become severe.

The American Cancer Society recommends that you see your physician if you experience symptoms associated with ovarian cancer more than 12 times a month.

Your healthcare provider may perform certain tests to check for cancer or rule out other conditions.

More often than not, your symptoms are likely caused by other reasons, but it's always a good idea to get checked.

A Word From Verywell

Though the risk is low, you can still develop ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal cancer after a hysterectomy. Symptoms of these diseases often don’t appear until the cancer is advanced, so it’s important to pay attention to any unusual or persistent problems. Early treatment for ovarian cancer is vital, so don’t hesitate to see your physician if you’re concerned about a particular symptom.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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