Learning about treatments for ovarian cancer can be confusing. Don’t worry – you don’t need to go through it alone. We’re here to help make sense of it and put your mind at ease.
Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on things, such as what biomarkers you have and:
- The size and kind of tumor you have and how much it has spread
- The stage of your cancer
- If the tumor can be taken out by surgery
- Your age and general health
Your main treatment is usually a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Your health care team will decide what treatment path is right for you.
Most patients have surgery to remove the tumor. It’s common to have some or all the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries taken out, too. Sometimes the cervix will also be removed. It all depends on where the tumor is and how much the cancer has spread. Surgery is usually done first, followed by chemotherapy.
Your recovery time varies based on how your surgery was done and how much was taken out. You may have some pain where the surgery was done. Some women have hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause. These symptoms can be managed with medications.
One or more medications are given to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells. These are called chemotherapy. Some chemotherapy medications are taken by mouth. Others need to be given intravenously (through your vein). Certain chemotherapy is given in a specific area of the body, like the peritoneum (the abdominal cavity). You may have side effects while receiving chemotherapy. Common side effects are nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, hair loss and fatigue. Be sure to talk to your health care team about ways to manage these side effects.
Some chemotherapy, called target therapy, is given to attack specific types of cancer cells. For example, some targeted therapies block what the cancer cells need to grow. Others help the immune system kill cancer cells or deliver the medication right to the cancer cells to kill them. Targeted therapies may have fewer side effects and may cause less harm to healthy cells. An example of targeted therapy is the drug bevacizumab (brand name Avastin). This medication blocks the cancer cell from growing more blood vessels. Cancer cells need blood vessels to live and grow. Without blood vessels, the cells will die.
Another group of targeted chemotherapy works against cancer that is caused by the Breast Cancer 1 (BRCA 1) and Breast Cancer 2 (BRCA 2) genes. They’re called poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) inhibitors. They stop cancer cells from being able to repair themselves, so the cells die. Several PARP inhibitors that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are Olaparib (Lynparza), niraparib (Zejula) and rucaparib (Rubraca). Many more are being studied.
Some women will continue to take chemotherapy after the first round of treatment is done. This is called maintenance therapy. The goal of maintenance therapy is to reduce the chance or delay the cancer from coming back.
Treatment for recurrent cancer.
Even with treatments, cancer may come back at some point. This is called recurrence. There are treatments for recurrent ovarian cancer. In addition to more chemotherapy and surgery, your doctor may add hormone therapy and radiation. You and your doctor can review the treatment options that are best for you. Your treatment may depend on the type of chemotherapy you had before and how you responded to it. How long you’ve been cancer-free and whether the cancer has spread can also affect your treatment plan.
Talk with your doctor about your treatment options and what to expect. Be sure your caregivers are also informed. With their support, you can help manage your ovarian cancer and stay as healthy as possible.