One common treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery, where a procedure is performed to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue. Patients have several surgical options, and the type of surgery can depend on a few factors, such as:
- The size of the tumor
- The type and stage of your cancer
- Your overall health
- If the cancer has spread within the vagina, outside of the vagina to the lymph nodes, or to other parts of the body.
Staging epithelial ovarian cancer
Surgery for ovarian cancer has two main goals. The first goal is to stage the cancer, which allows doctors to see how far the cancer has spread from the ovary. Usually this means removing the uterus, along with both ovaries and fallopian tubes. In addition, the omentum is removed. The omentum is a layer of fatty tissue that covers the abdominal contents like an apron, and ovarian cancer sometimes spreads to this tissue. Some lymph nodes in the pelvis and abdomen may also be biopsied to see if the cancer has spread from the ovary.
Staging is important because ovarian cancers at different stages are treated differently. If the staging isn't done correctly, the doctor may not be able to decide on the best treatment.
Chemotherapy is one of the longest used and most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell’s ability to grow and reproduce. For some types of cancer, chemotherapy may be used alone or in combination with other treatments such as radiation or surgery. A combination of chemotherapy medicines is typically used to fight a specific cancer.
While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, the medicines reach all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. There can be many side effects during treatment and being prepared for these side effects can help you and your caregivers manage them effectively.
How is chemotherapy given?
Chemotherapy can be given in various ways, such as:
- A pill to swallow
- An injection (shot) into the muscle or fat tissue
- Directly into a body cavity
- Directly into the bloodstream, or intravenously (also called IV)
- Topically (applied to the skin)
Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles to allow healthy cells the time to recover. Treatment may be given daily, weekly, every few weeks or monthly, depending on your situation.
Chemotherapy is usually given in an outpatient setting. This includes a hospital, clinic or health care provider's office.
Patients are encouraged to take along something that is comforting to occupy their time during treatment. Since it is hard to predict how a patient will feel after treatment, it is important that the patient has arrangements to have someone drive them to and from their appointment.
A one-time administration of chemotherapy directly into the abdominal cavity, this treatment is most often combined with cytoreductive surgery. This specialized leading-edge procedure allows your team to deliver a higher dose of chemotherapy directly onto the tissue and directly target microscopic cancer cells, which are not visible on scans or to the human eyes. Markey Cancer Center is a high-volume center for hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) and has several experienced, surgical oncologists trained in the procedure.
Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer that uses high-energy X-rays. A machine directs the rays of energy to the area of cancer, with a goal to kill or shrink cancer cells.
Learn more about radiation treatment for ovarian cancer below and visit our Radiation Oncology website for an overview of services.
When might radiation therapy be used for ovarian cancer?
Radiation therapy is the most common treatment for ovarian cancer but is also often used along with other treatments like surgery or chemotherapy. Your doctor may advise radiation to:
- Serve as the main treatment, sometimes along with chemotherapy
- Shrink a tumor to make it easier to operate on before surgery
- Kill any remaining small areas of cancer following a surgery
- Treat a single area of cancer spread, such as a tumor in the brain or an adrenal gland. This may be done along with surgery to treat the tumor
- Relieve symptoms such as pain, bleeding, trouble swallowing, cough or problems caused by a spread of cancer
Types of radiation therapy
- External beam radiation therapy. This treatment is the most common type of radiation therapy used to treat ovarian cancer. This treatment focuses radiation from outside the body on the cancer to eliminate cancer cells.