Ovarian cancer

Treatment

Ovarian cancer is a serious disease, but a number of new and better drugs have become available for the treatment of this cancer over the past few years. In addition, we have new and more effective drugs to help control the side effects of cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs.

If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you will want to know what your treatment options are. There are more than 30 types of ovarian cancer, but by far the most common is epithelial carcinoma, which begins on the surface of the ovary. The information below, while general, refers to treatment options for epithelial ovarian cancer.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

When caught in the early stages, epithelial ovarian cancer can often be cured. If the disease has already advanced by the time of diagnosis, then the goal of treatment is to control the disease, or put it into remission, or a cancer-free period.

Even so, the majority (70 percent or better) of the women we treat for ovarian cancer can expect a complete response to their initial treatment. Unfortunately, relapse rates are high in advanced stage disease, so careful follow-up is needed following treatment for ovarian cancer. In addition, women who come to SCCA for treatment of ovarian cancer can expect a better quality of life while in cancer treatment than ever before.

You also will find a new attitude toward this disease: Your doctors will talk with you about "managing ovarian cancer as a chronic disease" in much the same way as a woman with congestive heart failure would manage her disease.

If you have been referred to SCCA for treatment, the common treatments are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. In addition, the gynecologic oncologists at SCCA have access to the latest leading-edge clinical trials that are available in the United States for our patients.

Remember, each woman's cancer is different, as are her circumstances, preferences, and beliefs. A treatment that works well for another woman may not be right for you.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Relapse The recurrence (return) of disease after an apparent recovery. Remission A decrease in, or disappearance of, signs and symptoms of cancer. A decrease in, or disappearance of, signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some (but not all) signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body. Stage The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.

Team approach

Gynecolgoic oncology is a unique cancer medical specialty in that the physicians who provide the surgical care are the same who provide the chemotherapy care following surgery. At SCCA, our team philosophy is to provider complete care that a woman with gynecologic cancer needs.   

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy.

Treatment types

Treatment looks different for different people depending on your diagnosis. We tailor your treatment plan to you. Learn more about the treatment types offered at SCCA. 

Treatment plan A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A treatment plan may also include information about how much the treatment is likely to cost and about regular follow-up care after treatment ends.
Chemotherapy

Most women treated at SCCA for ovarian cancer will receive chemotherapy after their surgery to kill any cancer cells remaining. Some women will be treated with chemotherapy prior to attempt at surgery, called “neoadjuvant” chemotherapy.  Generally these women are in poor general health and not good candidates for surgery initially.  

Chemotherapy works by killing fast-growing cells, but the drugs cannot discriminate between cancer cells and other fast-growing cells such as hair follicles. That is one reason for many of the typical side effects of chemotherapy treatment, including hair loss.

You will probably receive a combination of two chemotherapy drugs. The standard chemotherapy for ovarian cancer is a combination of paclitaxel (Taxol®) plus either carboplatin (Paraplatin®) or cisplatin (Platinol®). You will probably have six cycles, or treatments, spaced three weeks apart.

Until recently, standard chemotherapy for advanced ovarian cancer was just given intravenously, with a drip into a vein.  However, several large clinical trials showed a significant survival benefit in selected women with advanced ovarian cancer who were treated with directed chemotherapy given into the peritoneal space (abdominal cavity), called intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IP).  Your SCCA doctor will talk to you about whether you may be a good candidate for this type of treatment. 

Chemotherapy is given in the Infusion Suite on the fifth floor of SCCA. You may bring a friend or family member to sit with you during your treatment, which may take several hours.

New Treatments

Consider participating in a clinical trial. Promising new treatments, such as biological therapy, are only available through a clinical trial at this time (see “Participate in a Study” section).

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Infusion An injection of medications or fluids into a vein over a period of time. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.
Chemotherapy

Most women treated at SCCA for ovarian cancer will receive chemotherapy after their surgery to kill any cancer cells remaining. Some women will be treated with chemotherapy prior to attempt at surgery, called “neoadjuvant” chemotherapy.  Generally these women are in poor general health and not good candidates for surgery initially.  

Surgery

Surgery is the standard treatment for ovarian cancer. If your cancer has spread beyond your ovary, your doctors may recommend following your surgery with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is not generally used to treat ovarian cancer, but it may be a useful treatment for a small minority of women with ovarian cancer.

Studies show that outcomes are better for women whose surgery is performed by a gynecologic oncologist. All the surgeons who see patients at SCCA are gynecologic oncologists. Depending on how far your cancer has advanced, you may have surgery to remove just one ovary (and the fallopian tube), both ovaries, or a hysterectomy to remove the uterus as well as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Rather than relying on a biopsy to make treatment decisions, as with other types of cancer, ovarian cancer is most often diagnosed by the symptoms and with scans such as a CT or ultrasound.

If ovarian cancer is suspected, your gynecologic oncologist will recommend an exploratory surgery. If cancer is found, it will be removed at that time. The results of the surgery will allow your doctors to "stage" your disease. Any further treatment they recommend will depend to a large degree on the "stage" of your cancer, which means how far the disease has progressed.

If there is cancer elsewhere in the abdomen, your doctor will remove as much of the tumor as possible, a procedure that is called "debulking."  It has been well documented that patients have better outcomes if they have a maximal debulking at time of first surgery, called optimal debulking. Chemotherapy is more effective if as much of the cancer as possible is removed and your doctors may recommend chemotherapy following your surgery to destroy any cancer cells remaining.

Surgery for SCCA patients is performed at University of Washington Medical Center by gynecologic oncologists who provide care at both UWMC and SCCA.  

Minimally Invasive Surgery Option

Hysterectomies, node dissections and, when appropriate, ovarian or endometrial cancer staging/restaging can now be performed minimally invasively with robotics, like the da Vinci Surgical System. This system enhances the surgeon's capabilities and is shown to improve outcomes. The robot allows surgeons to do surgery without a large incision. It does not improve tumor control, but it does improve patient outcomes by reducing post operative pain, infection, blood loss, and reducing recovery time.

Biopsy The removal of a sample of tissue or fluid that is examined to see whether cancer is present. This may be done with a large needle or through surgical removal of tissue or fluids. Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Computed tomography A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. This scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment or find out how well treatment is working. Gynecologic oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancers of the female reproductive organs. Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Staging Performing exams and tests to learn the extent of the cancer within the body, especially whether the disease has spread from where it first formed to other parts of the body. Performing exams and tests to learn the extent of the cancer within the body, especially whether the disease has spread from where it first formed to other parts of the body. It is important to know the stage of the disease in order to plan the best treatment. Standard care A treatment or other intervention currently being used and considered to be of proven effectiveness based on past studies. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain. Ultrasound A procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body. The sound waves make echoes that form pictures of the tissues and organs on a computer screen. A procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body. The sound waves make echoes that form pictures of the tissues and organs on a computer screen (sonogram). Ultrasound may be used to help diagnose diseases, such as cancer. It may also be used during pregnancy to check the fetus (unborn baby) and during medical procedures, such as biopsies. Also called ultrasonography.
Surgery

Surgery is the standard treatment for ovarian cancer. If your cancer has spread beyond your ovary, your doctors may recommend following your surgery with chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is not generally used to treat ovarian cancer, but it may be a useful treatment for a small minority of women with ovarian cancer.

Recurrent Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Because of the difficulty of diagnosing ovarian cancer early, most woman have stage III or IV disease--meaning the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries--by the time they are diagnosed.

Even so, the majority (70 percent or better) of the women we treat for ovarian cancer can expect a complete response to their initial treatment.

Despite treatment, however, ovarian cancer sometimes recurs. It may come back elsewhere in the abdomen or in distant sites. Although tumors may appear in different sites it is not a new cancer, it is a recurrence of the original cancer.

If you have recurrent ovarian cancer, SCCA can offer you new medical procedures and treatments, as well as access to clinical trials, that your community doctor may not know about.

No one at SCCA will tell you that a diagnosis of recurrent disease is not serious, but there is hope. There are a number of new drugs that are effective against recurrent ovarian cancer, and one of these drugs may put you back in remission. Gynecologic oncologists are beginning to treat ovarian cancer as a chronic disease, one that can be managed with periods of treatment and periods of remission, with a focus on good quality of life throughout.

The treatment you receive for a recurrence of your ovarian cancer may include surgery or chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments. Radiation therapy is not commonly used to treat recurrent ovarian cancer. Your treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the type of treatment you have received in the past, how long since your first diagnosis, and the symptoms you are experiencing with the new cancer.

If you did not have chemotherapy previously, then your doctors will probably recommend that you have exploratory surgery, during which as much tumor as possible will be removed. They will probably recommend that you follow surgery with six chemotherapy treatments with a combination of paclitaxel (Taxol®) and carboplatin (Paraplatin®).

If you were treated with chemotherapy previously, your doctors may not recommend that you have further surgery. Rather, they may suggest a new chemotherapy, especially if the only indicator that you have a recurrence is a rising CA 125 tumor marker level.

Ask your doctor about taking part in clinical trials of promising treatments for metastatic disease. One of these is pairing chemotherapy with biological therapy, which is only available in a clinical trial at this time.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease. Metastatic A metastatic cancer is a cancer that has spread to other areas of the body by way of the lymph system or bloodstream. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Recurrence Cancer that has come back, usually after a period during which it could not be detected. It may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or someplace else. Also called recurrent cancer. Remission A decrease in, or disappearance of, signs and symptoms of cancer. A decrease in, or disappearance of, signs and symptoms of cancer. In partial remission, some (but not all) signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared. In complete remission, all signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared, although cancer still may be in the body. Stage The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. Symptom A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea and pain.
Recurrent Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Because of the difficulty of diagnosing ovarian cancer early, most woman have stage III or IV disease--meaning the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries--by the time they are diagnosed.

Cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (CRS-HIPEC)

This treatment is for people with ovarian cancer that has spread to the abdominal lining (peritoneum). Cancer that has spread here is called peritoneal carcinomatosis, or peritoneal cancer.

CRS-HIPEC may be able to control advanced disease while also giving you good quality of life. It combines two parts in one operation:

  • A surgery to remove all the cancer that surgeons can see
  • Chemotherapy, in liquid form, that is warmed and then put into your abdomen to kill any cancer cells left behind after surgery

SCCA has an experienced team that provides CRS-HIPEC.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy.
Cytoreductive surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (CRS-HIPEC)

This treatment is for people with ovarian cancer that has spread to the abdominal lining (peritoneum). Cancer that has spread here is called peritoneal carcinomatosis, or peritoneal cancer.