Facts and Tips to Help You Prepare for Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Your best treatment option for ovarian cancer will depend on several personal variables. For instance, your level of general health will determine which treatments may be suitable (and which won’t), and whether or not you plan on having children can narrow down your choices further. Age, type of cancer, and stage of the disease are other factors to consider.
Surgery and chemotherapy are the standard approaches to ovarian cancer treatment, although radiation is sometimes also used when the cancer recurs in a very small area. No treatment is without risk or discomfort, but the different therapies can be combined and managed in ways to reduce the danger and discomfort to you.
Understanding how and when cancer treatments work for ovarian cancer can help you weigh your options, and better prepare for the road ahead.
Since ovarian cancer can be difficult to find and assess, surgery usually plays a role in the diagnosis: if your oncologist can determine the precise stage of cancer (and whether or not it has spread), there is a better chance of choosing the right treatment option.
This initial surgery will likely involve removing lymph nodes, tissue, and fluid for further testing.
Surgery is also an important tool for treating ovarian cancer. It’s either used alone or, when the cancer has spread, alongside chemotherapy. However, there’s no one right surgical approach for ovarian cancer — any of the following procedures could be used, depending on the characteristics of your case.
This is the removal of one or both ovaries, along with one or both fallopian tubes. If the cancer is in an early stage and you hope to become pregnant in the future, it may be possible to remove only the ovary with the tumor.
This surgery will remove the uterus, and if necessary, some surrounding tissue. A full hysterectomy requires the removal of the uterus and the cervix.
Cytoreductive or Debulking Surgery
This surgical option is reserved for later stages of cancer, when the tumor has grown into surrounding tissue and symptoms are severe. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible, which may call for the removal of adjacent organs like the bladder, colon, spleen, or gallbladder.
Typically, this procedure is used before or after chemotherapy to limit the spread of the cancer.
Surgical side effects can differ greatly depending on the procedure. While any surgery is bound to leave you with some pain and tenderness, certain operations for ovarian cancer have more lasting effects: if both ovaries are removed, or you have a hysterectomy, you will not be able to bear children and you will enter menopause. In fact, menopausal symptoms can begin almost immediately in these cases, so talk to your doctor about what you can expect and how to curb the discomfort.
When it’s impossible to remove the whole tumor, or there’s a good chance that cancer cells have spread, chemotherapy is usually the way forward. By using powerful drugs to destroy rapidly dividing cancer cells, chemotherapy can stop the spread of ovarian cancer.
There are two general types of chemotherapy: one is used to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery, and the other aims to destroy any remaining cancer after a surgical procedure.
- This is done before surgery to improve the likelihood that the operation will remove the whole tumor (or as much as possible).
- Usually given intravenously every three weeks, for three or four cycles before surgery is performed.
- Main drugs used are carboplatin, paclitaxel, and docetaxel.
Next page: why you should consider clinical trials for ovarian cancer treatment.