Types of Treatment for Ovarian Cancer 

This section focuses on treatment for epithelial ovarian cancer. Other types of ovarian cancer are rare. The type of treatment you have depends on how far the cancer has spread (stage). Cancer may be confined to the ovary or spread only to nearby areas. If so, it is called local or early-stage cancer. If the cancer has spread to distant areas in the body, it's called metastatic or advanced ovarian cancer. It is very important that your particular findings be put into context by an expert. Gynecologic oncologists are subspecialists with advanced training in the diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance of female cancers including ovarian cancer.

Your doctor may suggest a combination of treatments. Doctors most often treat ovarian cancer with surgery followed by chemotherapy. These treatments are listed from the most to least common.

  • Surgery. You may have surgery to both diagnose and stage ovarian cancer and to treat it. Your surgeon removes tissue and examines it for signs of cancer. The main goal of surgery is to attempt a cure by removing the tumor or tumors. Your doctor may remove one or both ovaries and possibly surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. In rare cases, the surgeon performs a second surgery after other types of treatment to make sure all cancer is removed or to take samples of lymph nodes or other tissues. This helps determine whether cancer has spread. Even if the ovarian cancer has spread beyond the ovaries, surgically removing as much of the cancer as possible can provide a better chance for survival when combined with postoperative chemotherapy. Younger patients may be candidates for fertility-sparing surgery depending on the type of ovarian cancer and the stage of disease.

  • Chemotherapy. This treatment uses drugs to slow the growth of or kill the cancer ,and reduce the chance of its return.  Chemotherapy is recommended in most cases, even for early stage disease. It may be given intravenously or placed directly into the abdomen (intraperitoneal).  

  • Radiation therapy. This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It is rarely used to treat ovarian cancer. Doctors 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 directed at the tumor from outside of the body.

It's a good idea to learn all you can about your cancer and treatment choices so you can help make decisions about your care. One of the best ways to get the information you need is to ask your doctor and other health care professionals. Gynecologic oncologists are specialists who have done extra training in the diagnosis and treatment of gynecologic cancers.

Make sure you ask how the treatment may affect your daily life including your diet, appearance, mood, energy level, and sleep habits. Ask how successful the treatment usually is and find out about the risks and possible side effects. The Gynecological Cancer Foundation (www.thegcf.org), the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org), and the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) also offer information about ovarian cancer.