A cancer diagnosis can be scary. You’ll have to take in a lot of information, process it, and make critical, possibly life-changing decisions in a short period of time. That’s why it’s important you put together a highly qualified cancer care team and have the support of friends and family.
Ovarian Cancer Treatment
The main treatment options for ovarian cancer include:
- hormone therapy
- radiation therapy
- targeted therapy
Some women will use only one type of treatment, but many will use more than one. Your treatment options depend on the type of ovarian cancer you have, how advanced it is, and what other parts of your body are affected.
Surgery is the primary treatment for ovarian cancer. Most ovarian cancer surgeries remove both ovaries, the fallopian tubes, and the uterus. If your cancer has spread to the omentum, a fatty tissue layer that covers the abdominal organs, the surgeon may also remove it. Your doctor may try to preserve your ovaries and uterus if you’re young and still want to have children.
In addition to removing your ovaries, your doctor may also remove some lymph nodes and fluid in and near your pelvis and abdomen. These are typically sent to a pathologist for examination. Your doctor will have a better understanding of how far the cancer has progressed and what that means for your treatment strategy if cancer is present in some of these cells.
You may want to find a surgeon who has experience with ovarian or gynecologic cancers. You may need additional surgeries later if your surgery isn’t handled properly.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment for cancer. Most chemotherapy treatments are administered through the blood stream using an IV. Some are taken by mouth while others are injected directly into the abdominal cavity with a catheter.
Once it’s in your body, the chemotherapy medicine is absorbed into the bloodstream and carried throughout your body. This type of full-body treatment is called systemic chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is often used for cancers that have metastasized.
Chemotherapy treatments are usually administered every three to four weeks. You may receive them in a hospital, a cancer care facility, a doctor’s office, or even at home.
Most chemotherapy plans require three to six cycles. A cycle is a period of treatment followed by a period of rest. These cycles can last anywhere from six months to more than a year. The length of treatment and the number of cycles you need depend on the type of cancer you have.
Chemotherapy can shrink cancerous tumors. It may make the tumor undetectable in some cases. However, the cancer cells may begin to grow again at some point in the future. Your doctor may use chemotherapy again if the cancer returns and the treatment was successful the first time.
Ovarian stromal tumors produce excess hormones. Hormone therapy treatments use hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to fight the cancerous tumor and the effects of the hormones.
Three types of hormone therapy are used to treat ovarian cancer:
- aromatase inhibitors: Aromatase inhibitors help lower estrogen levels in women who have already gone through menopause. This type of hormone therapy is only useful for a small portion of ovarian cancer patients.
- luteinizing-hormone-releasing hormone agonists. Luteinizing-hormone-releasing hormone agonists stop estrogen production from the ovaries. These injected drugs are most often given to premenopausal women.
- tamoxifen: Tamoxifen is often used to treat breast cancer, but it can be used to treat certain types of ovarian cancer. Tamoxifen’s goal is to reduce estrogen circulation in the body so the hormone can’t stimulate cancer growth.
The anti-estrogen nature of this drug can cause side effects like vaginal dryness and hot flashes. It can also increase the risk of blood clots in the legs.
Radiation therapy targets specific areas of the body with high energy X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles. The objective of radiation therapy is to kill cancer cells with these radiated particles. Radiation therapy is most often used to treat areas of the body where the cancer has metastasized.
Targeted therapy is among the newest ovarian cancer treatments. The goal of targeted therapy is to identify, or target, cancer cells and destroy them while doing as little damage as possible to normal cells.
This type of treatment attacks the cancer cells’ “wiring.” It prevents the cells from communicating, reproducing, and healing. This ultimately prevents the cancer cells from growing and dividing.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first targeted therapy drug for ovarian cancer in 2014. Studies about targeted therapy continue because it’s still not clear if these medicines extend a woman’s life. The medicines may also cause some dangerous, potentially fatal, side effects.
On the Horizon
Better Understanding of Genes
The secret to understanding who will develop ovarian cancer and how aggressive it will be may depend on a woman’s genes. New research aims to discover high-risk genes and understand how risk factors impact cancer development.
Another area of interest is BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. These mutations put women at a higher risk for developing ovarian cancer. Knowing if you have one of these gene mutations may encourage you to have your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and/or uterus removed in order to prevent ovarian cancer from developing.
Making the Best Decision
Don’t rush when it’s time to make treatment decisions. You may feel like you’re racing against the clock to make a decision, but the fastest decision isn’t always best.
Weigh your options with your doctor and your family. Consider your future, especially if you’re worried about your fertility. Be sure you understand the consequences. Then, and only then, plan a course of treatment you want to take.
Confidence in your cancer care team and your treatment plan will help you retain some sense of control during this unfamiliar situation.