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Treatments for ovarian cancer

There are several possible treatments for ovarian cancer, each with benefits and side effects.

Treatment decisions for ovarian cancer depend largely on medical factors such as the type of cancer, how far the disease has progressed and general health. But there are other factors to consider too.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends talking to your doctor about your treatment options, asking about the risks and benefits, and asking questions about anything you don't understand.

Treatment options your doctor may recommend include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Surgery

Surgery for ovarian cancer may include removing part or all of one or both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus, the lymph nodes, or other organs, depending on how far the cancer has spread.

If the ovaries are removed during surgery, the body's natural source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone is lost. This can cause side effects such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness. Hormone therapy may help, but deciding whether to use it is a personal choice. A doctor can tell you about the benefits and risks.

For some women, surgery may be the only treatment needed for ovarian cancer. Others may need more treatment.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy—drugs used to destroy cancer cells—may be used after surgery. It's especially useful if the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries, according to the ACS.

Chemotherapy may be injected or swallowed to distribute the medicine throughout the body, or inserted into the abdomen to target the cancer cells more directly.

There are several drugs used for chemotherapy, and the side effects vary. In general, these drugs attack rapidly dividing cells, which include blood cells, hair cells and cells in the digestive tract. This can cause a variety of side effects, including hair loss, nausea, bruising and bleeding, and a lack of energy. Medication and a proper diet can help ease these symptoms.

Radiation

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to damage cancer cells and stop them from growing. It can be given from outside of the body, or radioactive material may be placed into or near the tumor (this is rarely done for ovarian cancer, according to the ACS). Radiation therapy only affects cells in the area being treated.

These treatments are given at a hospital or clinic.

Side effects of radiation therapy may include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, pain during urination and skin pain.

Radiation therapy is rarely used as the main treatment for ovarian cancer, according to the ACS.

Clinical trials

Some women opt to participate in clinical trials, where a new treatment is studied to determine if it is safe and effective. Some participants receive the treatment being studied, and others receive the standard treatment. This helps researchers compare different therapies. You can find out more about clinical trials by asking your doctor or going to the National Cancer Institute clinical trials website at cancer.gov/clinicaltrials.

Your doctor can help you decide if a clinical trial is a good choice for you.

After treatment

After treatment for ovarian cancer, regular follow-up care is important. Your doctor may recommend pelvic exams, chest x-rays, blood tests and other tests.

Looking ahead

You might be concerned about what will happen after treatment. Remember that statistics are based on large numbers of people and cannot be used to predict what will happen to you. Talk to your doctor about how effective your treatment is likely to be. And contact a support group if your feelings become overwhelming.

Reviewed 10/6/2021

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