If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, your treatment will be driven by a multidisciplinary treatment team that usually comprises medical and gynaecological oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists and trained nurses.
Ovarian cancer is gynaecological cancer that begins in the ovaries (a part of the female reproductive system). The ovaries play a vital role in a woman’s life by producing eggs and hormones oestrogen and progesterone during a woman’s reproductive years.
Your doctor and healthcare team will discuss ovarian cancer treatment options best suited for you. Evaluate and weigh each of your options before beginning treatment.
The five-year survival rate or ovarian cancer life expectancy five years after diagnosis is reasonably good and depends upon the type of cancer and stage at the time of diagnosis.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment Options
Treatment for your ovarian cancer will depend upon the following factors:
- Stage and grade of cancer at the time of diagnosis
- Size of the tumour
- Spread of cancer
- Overall health and fitness
The treatment for ovarian cancer can be classified as– localised and systemic, depending upon the extent of cancer spread.
Localised treatment for ovarian cancer treats the tumour and does not affect other parts of the body. These are the preferred choice in early-stage ovarian cancers that are limited to the ovaries or nearby regions but have not spread to other parts of the body.
Localised treatments for ovarian cancer include surgery and radiation therapy, which are the standard treatment options for this cancer.
Surgery is the main treatment option for ovarian cancer and is almost always included. The extent and type of surgery performed depends upon how far cancer has spread and your overall health. In many cases, the ovaries may have to be surgically removed to stop the spread of cancer cells. If this happens in a woman of childbearing age, she is offered the option of freezing her eggs to preserve her fertility.
When ovarian cancer is diagnosed early, removing the tumour without removing the ovaries and the uterus is possible. When ovarian cancer spreads to the abdomen, debulking surgery may remove as much of the cancer tissue as possible, including a few abdominal organs like the colon, a part of the small intestine, spleen or gallbladder.
- Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Though a standard cancer treatment, it is rarely used alone. The primary goal of radiation therapy in ovarian cancer treatment is to kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery or chemotherapy and relieve symptoms like pain. Radiation therapy is also used in relapsed ovarian cancer cases.
Systemic therapies are needed in advanced stage-3 and stage 4 ovarian cancer as the disease has spread outside the ovaries to other body parts. These therapies can be given orally or injected into the bloodstream directly. Standard systemic therapies that are effective in treating ovarian cancers are:
This treatment uses strong anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment may be needed after surgery or in combination with radiation therapy in advanced stages of ovarian cancer. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy (the drug is injected directly into the abdominal cavity) is often used to treat ovarian cancers when a small part of the tumour remains even after debulking surgery.
Speak to your doctor about any concerns regarding chemotherapy and ovarian cancer.
- Targeted Drug Therapy
This new-age biologic therapy uses drugs to target and attack cancer cells without damaging healthy normal cells. Each drug used in targeted therapy works differently and can affect different functions of a cancer cell– its growth, multiplication, how it repairs itself, etc.
- Hormone Therapy
Some reproductive organ cancers respond to or grow in response to hormones. Hormone therapy uses reproductive hormones to block cancer cells from growing. This treatment is used in epithelial ovarian cancers but rarely for stromal cancers.
Stage-Wise Treatment of Ovarian Cancer
After evaluating your symptoms and diagnostic test results, your doctor and health team will determine how to treat your ovarian cancer.
At this stage, ovarian cancer is limited to the ovaries and is called early-stage cancer. Standard treatment options for stage 1 ovarian cancer are:
- Surgery: This is the primary treatment and aims to remove the cancer cells from the ovaries.
- Chemotherapy: Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy if you have stage 1c ovarian cancer or grade 3 cancer that shows a high risk of spreading.
Stages 2, 3 and 4 ovarian cancer:
These stages of ovarian cancer are termed advanced as the cancer cells have spread outside the ovaries. Treatment in these stages includes:
- Surgery: Usually involves the removal of both the ovaries, fallopian tubes and the uterus
- Chemotherapy: May be required before or after surgery to ensure all cancer cells have been killed
- Targeted therapy: Help change the way cancer cells work in your body, often killing them and stopping the progression of
- Radiation therapy: Used with chemotherapy or after surgery to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
Seeking a Second Opinion
Choosing the most suitable treatment for you may seem daunting and challenging. Discuss all the treatment options you have with your doctor and healthcare team, depending on your stage and type of ovarian cancer.
Seeking a second opinion is recommended before beginning any cancer treatment. Ask your doctor for a referral for a second opinion with another specialist to get a more comprehensive view of your diagnosis and treatment options.