Ovarian Cancer Treatment
Ovarian cancer is difficult to catch in its early stages because there is not an effective screening method to catch it. Many women receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis when it is already in an advanced stage, so choosing the right treatment option becomes a vital decision.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
When cells mutate or begin to grow uncontrollably, they can become cancerous. Abnormal cells that grow in the ovaries or fallopian tubes is known as ovarian cancer. Cancerous tumors can metastasize, which means they spread to other parts of the body, contributing to further health complications. It is important to get a diagnosis as soon as possible so you can start treatment.
Treatment Options for Ovarian Cancer
Standard of care treatment plans are tailored to the individual and based on current health and personal preferences in addition to the cancer stage, grade and type of tumour. Wanting to get pregnant in the future will also impact which treatment you choose. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons of each treatment before deciding which is the best course of action for you.
Surgery is the main treatment for all stages and types of ovarian cancer. Surgery often needed to find out the complete extent of the ovarian cancer since imaging tests cannot always show the full picture. Possible side effects of surgery are short-term pain and tenderness, an inability to become pregnant in future, or early menopause.
Types of Surgery:
- Hysterectomy: removes the uterus and surrounding tissues if they are abnormal. When only the uterus is removed, it is called a partial hysterectomy. If the uterus and cervix are both removed, it is a total hysterectomy.
- Salpingo-oophorectomy: removes the ovary and fallopian tube. This surgery can be either unilateral (the ovary and fallopian tube are only removed from one side) or bilateral (the ovaries and tubes are removed from both sides). A woman may still become pregnant in the future if she undergoes unilateral surgery and has early-stage cancer.
- Lymph Node Dissection: abnormal lymph nodes in the pelvis and paraaortic areas are removed.
- Omentectomy: abnormal tissues covering the stomach and intestines are removed.
- Debulking surgery: removes as much of the tumor from the abdomen as is safe. This surgery is used for those with metastatic cancer to help reduce symptoms. It may also increase effectiveness of other treatments, like chemotherapy.
- Cystectomy: only removes the cyst containing the tumor and eaves the rest of the ovary intact.
Systemic therapies use medication to destroy cancer cells. Systemic therapies are commonly given through an intravenous (IV) tube or a pill form. Treatment plans may use a combination of systemic therapies or in addition to surgery. Treatment for ovarian cancer with systemic therapies include:
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells or keep the cancer cells from multiplying either before or after surgery. Neoadjuvant chemotherapy is given before surgery to reduce tumour size before surgery and adjuvant chemotherapy given after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. It treats some types and stages of ovarian cancer and can help relieve pain and control symptoms. Side effects include fatigue, risk of infection nausea, vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite and diarrhea
Hormone therapy is used to treat some low-grade tumours if they come back by using hormones or hormone-blocking drugs. This is an option for those who cannot tolerate or have not been helped by chemotherapy.
When standard therapy does not work, targeted therapy can go after the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or tissue environment that helps the cancer grow. Since not all tumors are the same, they will not have the same targets. The goal of targeted therapy is to block cancer growth and limit damage to healthy cells.
Radiation therapy is not a common treatment for ovarian cancer, but it does not mean that it is not an option. Ovarian cancer often involves many organs and radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays (or other particles) directed at a small area to destroy cancer cells. For ovarian cancer, radiation therapy can be used after surgery if chemotherapy cannot be used. It can be used in small areas where cancer has returned or spread, or it can help control symptoms of advanced stages of ovarian cancer. Side effects include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, loose bowel movements. Most side effects resolve themselves soon after treatment ends.
Complementary and Alternative Methods
There are some non-medical methods that help relieve symptoms and provide additional relief to use in tandem with regular medical care. These additional methods include vitamins, herbs, special diets, acupuncture, massage and more. While these techniques may help ease symptoms, many have not been proven to work as treatment for cancer.
What to Expect From Treatment
- No matter which treatment you choose, there will be side effects, so make sure you have a solid group of people to lean on for support.
- Being informed will help you make the best treatment decisions for yourself. Discuss your treatment goals and ask questions before starting any treatment plan.
- Be prepared to try a combination of treatments.
- Your doctor may ask you to consider a clinical trial—a research study that tests a new approach or a new treatment.
- Follow-up care is part of the treatment plan and you will have regular monitoring visits after treatment has finished.
Opting Out of Treatment
Some people choose to forgo treatment entirely. It may be because treatments they have tried have not been successful, the risk of trying more treatments outweigh the benefits, or they may not want to be treated at all. Support is still available to help manage other symptoms if you want to stop ovarian cancer treatment.
Choosing the right treatment plan is a shared responsibility between you and your healthcare team. Do your research, weigh the risks and stay informed so you can properly tackle ovarian cancer.