If you've been recently diagnoses with ovarian cancer, you'll want to get to know more about what to expect as you start treatment. Because there are different types and stages of ovarian cancer, your care team will work with you to decide the best treatment or combination of treatments for you.
While treatments often include surgery or chemotherapy, you have other care options and support, too. In fact, with ongoing research and new therapies, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer has continued to rise over the last few decades, according to the SEER data. As you start learning more about your diagnosis, here are some of the treatments that might be available to you.
Stages and types of ovarian cancer
To better understand your treatment options, it's important to know your stage and type of cancer. Ovarian cancer is organized into four stages. Stage one means your cancer is only in one or both ovaries. On the other hand, stage four means cancer has spread to other areas of your body beyond your abdomen.
According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, there are three main types of tissue where you may develop ovarian cancer. These include:
- The outer lining of the ovaries, known as epithelial tumors
- The cells that make eggs, called germ cell tumors
- The cells in the connective tissue around the ovaries that produce hormones, which is a rare type of cancer called stromal tumors
Ovarian cancer treatment options
Your specialist may use multiple treatments together to provide comprehensive care. And, while physical healing is important, you'll want to ask about emotional and mental support as well. These pieces of your wellness are a part of your recovery too.
- Surgery: The National Cancer Institute says most women with ovarian cancer have surgery - with the goal of removing as much of the cancer as possible. The type of surgery depends on your specific case. You may opt to remove one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes. Some women may also choose a total hysterectomy with a salpingo-oophorectomy, which removes the entire uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Other women may need surgery to remove lymph nodes.
- Chemotherapy: Another common treatment for ovarian cancer is chemotherapy. Chemo uses drugs to help destroy your cancer cells. Your oncologist will determine the right chemo medications for you. You may have chemo either before or after surgery.
- Targeted therapies: These therapies use drugs - sometimes taken by mouth in pill form - to target cancer. The American Society of Clinical Oncology says targeted therapies work by targeting specific genes, proteins, or tissues related to your type of cancer. Research is still underway to develop some of these therapies, so they may not be right for every woman.
- Hormone therapies: Depending on your type of cancer, your doctor may use hormone therapy in your treatment. The Foundation for Women's Cancer says some ovarian cancers need hormones to continue to develop. By blocking these hormones, hormone therapy can help prevent your cancer from growing.
- Radiation: Treatment using radiation isn't as common for ovarian cancer. But it can be used in specific cases. Radiation therapy for cancer uses targeted X-rays or other forms of radiation to destroy cancerous cells.
- Clinical trials: You may ask your doctor about potential clinical trials for ovarian cancer. ClinicalTrials.gov allows you to search by condition and location. However, often your care team is the best resource to help you understand the risks and benefits of a trial and whether you qualify.
- Complementary therapies and support: Many cancer treatment centers offer therapies and support programs to help you cope with the physical and emotional side effects of cancer. While not every complementary therapy is right for every person, some options include activities like yoga or music therapy. You may also want to research local support groups to connect with others undergoing a similar journey.
Your care team
Most likely, you'll see multiple specialists who work together to care for you. Your primary OB GYN should refer you to an OB GYN who is board-certified in gynecologic oncology. These specialists have specific expertise in treating ovarian cancer. The CDC says you may also see a medical oncologist and a surgeon as part of your care.
While the treatment of ovarian cancer can seem complex, your care team should answer your questions and help guide you through the process. They can help you make informed choices as you consider all your treatment options.