What Happens in End Stage Ovarian Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/1/2022

Woman with cancer getting hug from another woman
End stage (terminal) ovarian cancer is when the cancer cannot be cured and will lead to death. Signs that a person is nearing the end of life from cancer may include needing to sleep most of the time, weight loss, minimal to no appetite, difficulty eating or swallowing fluids, decreased ability to talk, and others.

Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when cells in the ovaries, the female reproductive glands, become abnormal and grow out of control. 

End stage ovarian cancer, which also may be referred to as terminal ovarian cancer, is when the cancer cannot be cured and will lead to death.

  • Early stages of ovarian cancer may not cause any symptoms.
  • People with ovarian cancer are often diagnosed in later stages, once the cancer has already progressed to an advanced stage.
    • At that point, only 17% of those with stage IV ovarian cancer are expected to live for at least five years after diagnosis. 

Things that happen when a person is nearing the end of life from cancer, including end stage ovarian cancer, may include: 

  • Increased weakness and exhaustion
  • Needing to sleep most of the time
  • Weight loss and muscle loss
  • Minimal to no appetite 
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing fluids
  • Decreased ability to talk and concentrate
  • Loss of interest in doing things that were once important
  • Loss of interest in the outside world
  • Only wanting a few people nearby and limiting visits

What Are End of Life Signs When Someone Is Dying?

As a person enters the last days of life, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Slow breathing, sometimes with long pauses in between breaths
  • Noisy breathing, with gurgling or rattling sounds
  • Cool skin that may turn a bluish, dusky color, especially in hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and lips
  • Decreased urine
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Restlessness or repetitive, involuntary movements
  • Confusion about time, place, and people’s identities, including people close to them
  • Seeing or hearing people or things that are not there
    • This is common and is not a cause for concern unless it scares or upsets the person who is ill
  • Drifting in and out of consciousness and gradually becoming less responsive to touch or voice

What Is the Treatment for End Stage Ovarian Cancer?

End stage ovarian cancer means a person cannot be cured, and they will die from the cancer. Palliative care, also called supportive care or comfort care, is used to help manage or relieve symptoms of end stage ovarian cancer. 

The goal of palliative care is to improve a patient’s quality of life and to relieve suffering. Palliative care can help patients cope with physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nausea, constipation, and difficulty sleeping (insomnia), and mental/emotional symptoms such as depression and anxiety

Hospice care may also be an option for terminally ill patients with a limited life expectancy and may begin if a patient’s condition is unable to be cured or managed. The only goal of hospice care is comfort and quality of life. Palliative care may occur in a hospice, in a patient’s home, in the hospital, or in a long-term care facility. 

Palliative care may include treatment to alleviate symptoms and keep a patient comfortable, such as:

  • Help with medications
  • Emotional or spiritual support
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Support for caregivers and family members

Steps family and caregivers can take to help a person with end stage ovarian cancer be more comfortable include: 

  • Use an “eggshell” mattress or foam cushions on chairs
  • Help the person change positions frequently
  • Change bedsheets at least twice a week or more often, as needed
  • Keep the person warm with blankets
  • Speak in a clear, calm voice, and remind the person of the time, place, and people present to help ease confusion and disorientation (this may not always help if a person has delirium)
  • Say things that are supportive and reassuring but that do not require a response, and remind the person you are there with them, you love them, and you support them
  • Provide a straw for the person to sip liquid if they can swallow
  • Use glycerin swabs and lip balm to help with dry mouth and lips
  • Gently massage the person’s body if they feel it is soothing
  • Use a moisturizing lotion to soothe and relieve dry skin
  • Simply be present
    • Sit with the person
    • Talk
    • Offer gentle touch
    • Hold the person’s hands


Where does ovarian cancer occur? See Answer

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Reviewed on 4/1/2022
Image Source: iStock Images