Ovarian Cancer Treatments
Epithelial tumors, which originate on the surface of your ovary, are the most common form of ovarian cancer. Some epithelial tumors are benign (non-cancerous) or considered to have a low malignancy potential (unlikely to become cancerous). Ovarian tumors, in general, can grow to be quite large and disrupt various functions of the body so even non-cancerous tumors may need to be treated.
The best treatment of ovarian cancer requires a multidisciplinary team approach. Aurora cancer patients benefit from multidisciplinary case reviews, which can include specialists from various disciplines.
- Cancer Nurse Navigator: a registered nurse with special training who can help answer questions and provide information on resources and support services.
- Gynecologic oncologist: an obstetrician/gynecologist with additional fellowship training in the study and treatment of cancers of the reproductive system.
- Pathologist: a physician who examines tissues and cells under a microscope to determine if they are normal or abnormal.
- Radiation oncologist: a physician specializing in treating cancer with radiation therapy.
- Radiologist: a physician who uses X-rays and other imaging tests to diagnose disease.
Treatment plans are customized for each patient by our team of experts and may include cancer surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
Your diagnosis, ovarian cancer staging, general health and child-bearing preferences may play a role in deciding the appropriate treatments. In many cases, ovarian cancer treatments prevent future pregnancies, but other options may be considered to preserve fertility. Removing the ovaries and uterus will cause the onset of menopause. However, treatments do not affect your long-term ability to feel sexual pleasure.
Surgery is usually the primary treatment for ovarian cancer. "De-bulking" is the process during surgery to remove as much of the tumor mass as possible. Surgery usually involves removing both ovaries (oophorectomy) and sometimes other reproductive organs, such as the uterus (hysterectomy) and fallopian tubes (salpingectomy), to help prevent the cancer from recurring. It is widely known that the initial surgery and the extent of de-bulking has a significant effect on survival when an ovarian cancer patient has their initial surgery. The skill, training and expertise of the surgeon directly affects survival.
Other surgical options are removing the fallopian tubes with the ovaries (salpingo-oophorectomy) or removing the lymph nodes (lymphadenectomy). Surgical procedures include:
- Open surgery: an incision a few inches in length is made in the lower abdomen to provide access to the reproductive organs. Hospital stays typically run 3 to 7 days and patients can resume normal activities after one month or so.
- Laparoscopy: this minimally invasive procedure can be performed to remove some cancers. It involves only a few very small incisions to allow a viewing scope, camera and special surgical instruments to be inserted to perform the surgery. Pain and recovery time are greatly reduced with minimally invasive procedures.
Surgery is typically followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to kill additional cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy or radiation is used to shrink the tumor before surgery.
Systemic anti-cancer drugs are usually given by mouth or injected through a vein. They affect the whole body to help control the cancer's spreading to other organs. Temporary side effects may include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, mouth sores and rashes on the hands and feet. Chemotherapy is typically given regularly for 3 or 4 weeks followed by a rest period and additional cycles of chemotherapy and rest.
Aurora Health Care also offers intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Anti-cancer drugs are injected directly into your abdominal lining (peritoneum) to target cancer cells that may remain after surgery. Side effects are about the same as systemic chemotherapy and sometimes both forms of chemo are used together.
External beam radiation uses a special machine outside the body to send beams of high-energy X-rays through the skin to target and kill cancer cells. A course of radiation treatment may be done five days per week for several weeks. Side effects may include fatigue, nausea, diarrhea and skin irritation.
Sometimes a pill, such as Tamoxifen, may be taken to shrink ovarian tumors. Side effects may include hot flashes.
Clinical trials offer additional treatment options for some patients. Some promising new treatments may only be available in a research setting. Aurora offers access to these clinical trials of therapies that might not be widely available elsewhere.
Aurora offers other treatments and palliative care to maintain quality of life during and after cervical cancer treatments. Reducing disease symptoms, managing treatment side effects, maximizing comfort and taking advantage of complementary therapies are part of the mission of the Cancer Counseling Center.