What are options for Ovarian Cancer Treatment?
Treatment for ovarian cancer consists of surgery, chemotherapy, a combination of surgery with chemotherapy, and sometimes radiotherapy. The kind of treatment depends on many factors, including the type of ovarian cancer, its stage and grade, as well as the general health of the patient.
The surgical removal of the cancer is performed in the vast majority of ovarian cancer cases, and is often the first treatment the patient will undergo.
Unless the ovarian cancer is very low grade, the patient will require an extensive operation that includes the removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes (salpingo-oophorectomy), the uterus (hysterectomy), nearby lymph nodes, and the omentum (a fold of fatty abdominal tissue). Cancer often spreads into the omentum. In most cases the operation will be carried out by a gynecologic oncologist surgeon – a specialist in surgery for women with cancer of the reproductive organs. This operation is referred to as total hysterectomy.
If the cancer is confined to just one of the ovaries the surgeon may just remove the affected ovary and the adjoining fallopian tube. The woman will have a chance of being able to conceive. If both ovaries are removed it will not be possible to conceive.
uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. Most women have chemotherapy for ovarian cancer after surgery. Some women have chemotherapy before surgery. Usually, more than one drug is given. Drugs for ovarian cancer can be given in different ways:
- By vein (IV): The drugs can be given through a thin tube inserted into a vein.
- By vein and directly into the abdomen: Some women get IV chemotherapy along with intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. For IP chemotherapy, the drugs are given through a thin tube inserted into the abdomen.
- By mouth: Some drugs for ovarian cancer can be given by mouth.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles. Each treatment period is followed by a rest period. The length of the rest period and the number of cycles depend on the anticancer drugs used.
The side effects of chemotherapy depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. The drugs can harm normal cells that divide rapidly:
- Blood cells: These cells fight infection, help blood to clot, and carry oxygen to all parts of your body. When drugs affect your blood cells, you are more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team checks you for low levels of blood cells. If blood tests show low levels, your health care team can suggest medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
- Cells in hair roots: Some drugs can cause hair loss. Your hair will grow back, but it may be somewhat different in color and texture.
- Cells that line the digestive tract: Some drugs can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Ask your health care team about medicines that help with these problems.
Some drugs used to treat ovarian cancer can cause hearing loss, kidney damage, joint pain, and tingling or numbness in the hands or feet. Most of these side effects usually go away after treatment ends.
(also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. A large machine directs radiation at the body. Radiation therapy is rarely used in the initial treatment of ovarian cancer, but it may be used to relieve pain and other problems caused by the disease. The treatment is given at a hospital or clinic. Each treatment takes only a few minutes.
Side effects depend mainly on the amount of radiation given and the part of your body that is treated. Radiation therapy to your abdomen and pelvis may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or bloody stools. Also, your skin in the treated area may become red, dry, and tender. Although the side effects can be distressing, your doctor can usually treat or control them. Also, they gradually go away after treatment ends.
Ovarian cancer and its treatment can lead to other health problems. You may receive supportive care to prevent or control these problems and to improve your comfort and quality of life.
- Pain: Your doctor or a specialist in pain control can suggest ways to relieve or reduce pain.
- Swollen abdomen (from abnormal fluid buildup called ascites): The swelling can be uncomfortable. Your health care team can remove the fluid whenever it builds up.
• Blocked intestine: Cancer can block the intestine. Your doctor may be able to open the blockage with surgery.
• Swollen legs (from lymphedema): Swollen legs can be uncomfortable and hard to bend. You may find exercises, massages, or compression bandages helpful. Physical therapists trained to manage lymphedema can also help.
- Shortness of breath: Advanced cancer can cause fluid to collect around the lungs. The fluid can make it hard to breathe. Your health care team can remove the fluid whenever it builds up.
- Sadness: It is normal to feel sad after a diagnosis of a serious illness. Some people find it helpful to talk about their feelings.
Nutrition and Physical Activity
It’s important for women with ovarian cancer to take care of themselves. Taking care of yourself includes eating well and staying as active as you can. You need the right amount of calories to maintain a good weight. You also need enough protein to keep up your strength. Eating well may help you feel better and have more energy. Sometimes, especially during or soon after treatment, you may not feel like eating. You may be uncomfortable or tired. You may find that foods do not taste as good as they used to. In addition, the side effects of treatment, such as poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, or mouth sores can make it hard to eat well. Your health care provider can suggest ways to deal with these problems. Many women find they feel better when they stay active. Walking, yoga, swimming, and other activities can keep you strong and increase your energy.
You will need regular checkups after treatment for ovarian cancer. Even when there are no longer any signs of cancer, the disease sometimes returns because undetected cancer cells remained somewhere in your body after treatment. Checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if needed. Checkups may include a pelvic exam, a CA-125 test, other blood tests, and imaging exams. If you have any health problems between checkups, you should contact your doctor.
National Cancer Institute http://www.cancer.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov