Problems after ovarian cancer surgery

There is a risk of problems or complications after any operation. Many problems are minor but some can be life threatening. Treating them as soon as possible is important.

Possible problems include infection, bleeding, blood clots, swollen legs or bladder and bowel problems.


You are at risk of getting an infection after surgery, such as a wound or chest infection. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms of infection.

They include:

  • a high temperature
  • shivering
  • feeling hot and cold
  • feeling generally unwell
  • a cough
  • feeling sick
  • swelling or redness around your wound

Your doctor can give you antibiotics. Occasionally for an infection in your wound or pelvis, you may need another operation.

Vaginal bleeding

You may have some vaginal bleeding after the operation. It can be similar to a light period. It usually changes to a red or brown discharge before stopping. The discharge can last for a few days to a few weeks. 

Tell your doctor or nurse if:

  • the bleeding starts again after stopping
  • the bleeding becomes heavier
  • the discharge is green or yellow, or smells

Bleeding in your abdomen or pelvis

You'll have some blood loss during your operation. Sometimes you may need a blood transfusion for this. There is a small risk of internal bleeding after the operation. This is rare. If this happens you may need a second operation.

Your nurse will check you regularly after surgery for signs of blood loss.

Bladder or bowel problems

After any surgery to the pelvis or abdomen, there is a risk of damaging the bladder, the tubes that take urine to the bladder (the ureters), or the bowel. Your surgeon usually notices if a problem develops during the operation and can repair it. Occasionally you may need a second operation.

Blood clots

After surgery, you're at risk of blood clots developing in your pelvis or legs. This could lead to a blood clot in your lungs.

To prevent blood clots, your nurses get you up as soon as possible after your operation, and encourage you to move around or do your leg exercises.

Also, during and after your operation, you wear special stockings (called anti embolism stockings or TEDS). And after your operation you usually have injections to thin your blood. You may have the injections for up to 4 weeks after surgery.

Tell your doctor straight away or go to A&E if you:

  • have a painful, red, swollen leg, which may feel warm to touch
  • are short of breath
  • have pain in your chest or upper back
  • cough up blood

Swelling in your legs (lymphoedema)

If you have lymph nodes taken away as part of your operation, the flow of lymphatic fluid around your body can be disrupted. In some women, the fluid may build up in one or both legs, or rarely in the genital area.

This swelling is called lymphoedema. It can develop any time after surgery for the rest of your life. Your nurse will give you information about how to reduce the risk of this happening.

Tell your nurse or doctor if you notice any swelling.

  • The Royal Marsden Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures, 9th edition
    L Dougherty and S Lister (Editors)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Venous thrombolism: reducing the risk for patients in hospital
    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2010

  • Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    JA Ledermann and others
    Annals of Oncology, Volume 24, Supplement 6, 2013

Last reviewed: 
13 Jan 2022
Next review due: 
13 Jan 2025

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