Ovarian Cancer: Treatment Choices

This information focuses on treatment for epithelial ovarian cancer. Other types of ovarian cancer are rare. The type of treatment you receive depends on how far the cancer has spread (stage).

Cancer may just be in the ovary or spread only to nearby areas. If so, it’s called local or early-stage cancer. If the cancer has spread to far areas in the body, it’s called metastatic or advanced ovarian cancer. It’s important that your findings be put into context by an expert. Gynecologic oncologists are specialists with advanced training in the diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance of female cancers. These include ovarian cancer.

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, how successful they’re expected to be, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or he or she may offer more than 1, and ask you to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It is important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get another opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. In fact, some insurance companies may require a second opinion. In addition, you may want to involve your family and friends in this process.

Types of treatment for ovarian cancer

Your healthcare provider may suggest a combination of treatments. Healthcare providers most often treat ovarian cancer with surgery followed by chemotherapy (chemo). In some cases, your healthcare provider may suggest that you receive chemo before surgery. This is done to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove.

These are the treatments most often used for ovarian cancer. They are listed from the most to least common.

Surgery

You may have surgery to diagnose and stage ovarian cancer and to treat it. Your surgeon removes tissue and looks at it for signs of cancer. The main goal of surgery is to attempt a cure by taking out all of the tumor or tumors. Your healthcare provider may remove one or both ovaries and surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. Even if the ovarian cancer has spread beyond the ovaries, surgically removing as much of the cancer as possible can give you a better chance for survival.  

Chemo

This treatment uses medicines to slow the growth of or kill the cancer. It also reduces the chance of it coming back. Chemo is recommended in most cases, even for early stage disease. It may be given intravenously (IV or into a vein) or placed directly into your abdomen (called intraperitoneal or IP chemo).  

Radiation therapy

This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It’s rarely used to treat ovarian cancer. Healthcare providers use it most often to ease the symptoms of cancer. Women getting radiation for ovarian cancer usually have external radiation. This type of radiation comes from a machine that directs rays of energy at the tumor from outside of the body.

Making treatment decisions

It’s a good idea to learn all you can about your cancer and treatment choices. This can help you make decisions about your care. One of the best ways to get the information you need is to ask your healthcare providers.

Make sure you ask how the treatment may affect your life. Ask how it may affect your diet, appearance, mood, energy level, and sleep habits. Find out whether treatment will put you into menopause. Ask how successful the treatment usually is. Find out about the risks and possible side effects, both short and long term. The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov), and the Foundation for Women's Cancer (www.foundationforwomenscancer.org) also offer information about ovarian cancer. You may want to get second opinion from a gynecologic oncologist.