How is ovarian cancer treated?

There are a number of ovarian cancer treatments, including surgery, chemotherapy (sometimes called chemo), targeted therapy (treatment personalized to a person’s cancer and genes), hormone therapy and radiation therapy. Sometimes a combination of these treatments is used. Cancer treatment can cause side effects. While some side effects can last longer, most go away a few weeks after stopping treatment.

Cancer that starts in the ovaries is called ovarian cancer, even though it may spread to other parts of the body. Ovarian cancer treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. The treatment of ovarian cancer depends on the type of cancer, the size of the cancer, your general health and medical history and whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

Treatment is most successful when the cancer is detected early. Discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.

The goal of treatment for ovarian cancer is to surgically remove as much of the cancer as possible and then to provide chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells in the body. During surgery, the doctor -- preferably a gynecologic oncologist -- will excise as much of the cancer that is visible in a process known as debulking (cytoreductive surgery). The doctor will also assess the cancer stage (how far it has spread) and give tissue samples to a pathologist, who determines the cancer grade (the aggressiveness of the cancer).

After the operation, the use of chemotherapy will depend on the stage of the disease and how much of the tumor was removed. A doctor might also offer the possibility of enrolling in a clinical trial to test new drugs or therapeutic regimens, if the patient meets the criteria for a particular trial.

After surgery and chemotherapy, women need regular checkups that include a pelvic exam, the CA-125 test, and other blood and imaging tests. In many cases, ovarian cancer may recur after initial treatment, and these tests will help determine if cancer has returned. While women with ovarian cancer are living longer and better, more research is needed to develop much-needed new treatments. Basic science research is helping doctors understand more about this complex illness, and clinical trials are testing new therapies to eradicate cancer cells and to prevent recurrence.

Dr. Ajay K. Sahajpal, MD
Transplant Surgeon

Commonly, ovarian cancer is treated with a multidisciplinary approach that commonly involves a combination of surgery to remove or debulk the tumor and remove the ovaries/uterus, along with chemotherapy both intra-abdominally and systemic.

Dr. Sharyn N. Lewin, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

My goal, as a gynecologic oncologist, is to surgically remove as much of the cancer as possible. I will remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix, by a minimally invasive technique (small incisions with laparoscopy or robotic surgery). If necessary, I will use a larger incision (laparotomy) if the tumor has extended out of the ovaries into the abdomen. Here, I will "debulk" the cancer to extensively remove as much tumor as possible. This "cytoreductive" surgical technique will give the best survival, outcomes and quality of life. My goal is to remove all the cancer, if possible, which may include radical procedures in the pelvis and upper abdomen.

I will also "stage" the cancer to determine whether additional or adjuvant therapies such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy will be necessary.

I use intraperitoneal chemotherapy (or chemotherapy instilled into the abdomen) which has been shown in studies to increase outcomes and survival (or how long a patient will live).

Ovarian cancer is treated with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. Typically, surgery is performed first followed by chemotherapy, but the order can vary.

Ovarian cancer is often treated with surgery and chemotherapy. Depending on your condition, kind of tumor, and the stage of the cancer, the doctor may remove your fallopian tubes, uterus, and some of your abdominal tissue in addition to both of your ovaries; it is not necessarily that extensive. Chemotherapeutic agents include carboplatin and paclitaxel. These medications, which kill cancer cells, may be given after your surgery. Hormone therapy may be used; this technique involves the use of hormone-blocking drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. Targeted therapy, using medications and other substances that identify and target cancer, has become a key cancer-fighting aid. Radiation therapy is less often used for ovarian cancer as for other forms of cancer, but can still be a valuable tool in destroying cancer cells, especially if the cancer has spread to other areas in the body.

Continue Learning about Ovarian Cancer

Detecting Ovarian Cancer
Detecting Ovarian Cancer
Your ovaries lie deep within your pelvis, which makes disease detection tricky. Early screening methods for ovarian cancer have so far proved unreliab...
Read More
What is the role of VCAM-1 in ovarian cancer?
David A. Fishman, MDDavid A. Fishman, MD
VCAM-1 is a receptor on the surface of activated endothelial and mesothelial cells. In instances...
More Answers
What do I need to know about caring for someone with ovarian cancer?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MDSharyn N. Lewin, MD
Taking care of a wife, mother, grandmother, sister or friend who has ovarian cancer may put you in a...
More Answers
How Does Sequestration Affect the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund?
How Does Sequestration Affect the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.