Treating Ovarian Cancer
A number of treatments are used in combination, to give a woman the best chance of recovery from ovarian cancer. Treatment is designed to target the type of cell that is cancerous, and the grade and stage of the disease. Treatment usually begins with surgery.
The goal of surgery is to remove as much of the original tumor as possible, and any tumors that have spread to other organs such as the intestines, liver, kidney or bladder.
Tissue immediately surrounding a tumor is also taken out to make sure there are as few remaining cancer cells as possible. Removing cancerous tissue makes it more likely that additional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation will be successful.
In the presence of ovarian cancer, it is common to remove both ovaries, the fallopian tubes and the uterus. A layer of tissue covering the abdominal organs, called the omentum, may also be removed.
Surgeons take out numerous lymph nodes in the abdomen and pelvis. Cancer often spreads through the lymph system, and doing a biopsy on lymph nodes helps determine how far the cancer has moved from the original site.
This is a big surgery and it can take weeks to months to fully recover. Chemotherapy and radiation, if indicated, usually begin right afterward.
There are many different chemotherapy drugs. Each drug targets cancer cells in a unique way. The results of the biopsy will determine what type of chemotherapy is needed.
Chemotherapy may be delivered directly into the blood stream, into the abdominal cavity or by taking pills. It’s not necessary to be in the hospital for this; there are centers where cancer patients can go to receive their chemotherapy infusions, and then go home.
The goal is to deliver the medicine throughout the entire body, so as many cancer cells as possible are killed.
Ovarian cancer patients usually take at least 2 different types of chemotherapy medicine. Research shows this is more effective because the medicines target the cancer in different ways.
Radiation targets specific areas where there are a high number of cancer cells. It can be used to shrink tumors prior to surgery, or to reduce pain. There are usually a series of radiation treatments over several months, and while they are quick and painless, can cause a number of uncomfortable side effects. These include:
Scar tissue leading to pain
Immediate symptoms from radiation usually go away after a few weeks.
Hormone and Targeted Therapies
If an ovarian tumor comes from hormone producing cells inside the ovary, blocking certain hormones can reduce its ability to replicate. The biopsy will determine if hormone therapies will work.
Targeted therapies work by disrupting the internal cellular function of the cancer cell. The goal is for the cells to stop replicating and die. While effective, these treatments have a number of side effects which are difficult to tolerate.