How to Treat Ovarian Cancer
A diagnosis of ovarian cancer can be a scary thing. It’s important to get treatment from a specialist in gynecology oncology so you can receive the correct staging and treatment. The most common way ovarian cancer is treated is with surgery and chemotherapy. Learn the ways to treat ovarian cancer so you can make an informed decision about your treatment.
Meet with a specialist.If you are suspected to have an ovarian cancer from various diagnostic criteria such as family history, age, menstrual status, palpated ovarian mass, ultrasound examination, tumor marker elevation (elevated CA-125), then you want to make sure you are referred to a specialist called a gynecology oncologist.You should find a hospital, treatment center, or clinic that specializes in gynecology oncology. This ensures you are getting the best care.
- To find a specialist, search online for a gynecologic oncologist in your area. You can read reviews from other patients to help make your choice, or ask your doctor for a referral to a specialist who treats ovarian cancer. Be aware that you may need to go to a different city to find a specialist in gynecology oncology.
- Research shows that those who are treated by gynecologic oncologists and have their surgeries performed by them have a higher success rate, less side effects, and a better chance of having the stage of their cancer accurately diagnosed.
- The rest of your cancer treatment team will include a medical oncologist who specializes in chemotherapy, and an ovarian cancer nurse.Other specialists on your team may be radiologists, pathologists, dietitians, and other healthcare professionals.
Do your research.After you create your treatment team and stage your cancer, you can start researching options. The most common treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery to remove the tumors. Chemotherapy is often used as complementary treatment to help kill other cancer cells. Talk to your treatment team about the treatments that are best for you.
- If you are afraid of how treatment will affect your fertility, talk to your doctor.
Creating a Treatment Plan
Undergo surgery.Surgery is necessary for the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer. The two main goals of surgery are to stage the extent of the cancer (outlined below) and debulking, or removing as much cancerous tissue as possible. This usually means you will have a hysterectomy and salpingo-oophorectomy, omentectomy, biopsies of lymph nodes in the pelvis and abdomen and if fluid is present in the abdominal cavity, it will be collected for analysis.You may also have tumors or cancerous cells removed from other areas where it has spread.All removed tissue and fluid samples will be sent to a lab to be examined for cancerous cells.
- A salpingo-oophorectomy is a surgical procedure where one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes are removed. If you have stage I cancer and want to become pregnant in the future, you may be able to have only one ovary or fallopian tube removed.
- A hysterectomy is usually done for any cancer stage II and up. During this procedure, the cervix and uterus are removed.
- With advanced stage cancers, you will more than likely have the lymph nodes in the pelvic area removed. You may also have to have an omentectomy, which removes the fatty tissue that covers the abdominal area and large intestine.
- If you have stage IV cancer, your doctor may remove as much of the cancer as possibly by removing parts of the affected organs, such as the spleen, stomach, bladder, colon, or other organs.
Determine your prognosis.If the doctor has found a tumor, they will perform surgery to remove the tumor. After removing the tumor, they will examine a sample from the tumor under a microscope. This biopsy will help them determine if cancer is present and the stage of the cancer.During the surgery, samples from the pelvic and abdominal areas will also be taken to help figure out the stage of the cancer.
- Stage I cancer is when the cancer is confined to one or both of the ovaries or fallopian tubes. In stage I, the cancer may be inside the ovaries/fallopian tubes or on the surface of these organs. The outer covering of the ovary may have broken open at this stage. There may also be cancer cells in fluid surrounding the abdomen but not affecting the abdominal organs.
- Stage II cancer occurs when the cancer is in the ovaries or fallopian tubes as well as other pelvic areas. This means cancer may be found in both the ovaries and the fallopian tubes. It may also be in the uterus, bladder, colon, or rectum.
- Stage III is when the cancer is in the same places as stage II, but also has spread to the lymph nodes in the abdominal area, the abdominal lining, or the surfaces of the liver or spleen.
- Stage IV cancer means that the cancer is in the pelvis and abdomen area, but has also spread to other parts of the body. This can include the inside of the liver, spleen, lungs, brain, or other organs, the fluid around the lungs, or lymph nodes of the groin or other parts of the body.
Get chemotherapy.Chemotherapy is used as a complementary treatment to surgery. It is used to get any remaining cancer cells that surgery could not. Chemotherapy is when drugs are used to kill the cancer cells. For ovarian cancer, chemotherapy can be given intravenously, orally, or through a catheter into the abdominal cavity. Most often, combination of chemo given through an IV and through the catheter directly into the abdomen is effective in treating ovarian cancer.Generally, a combination of drugs is given every month or so. You will be given the drugs in cycles, so the entire treatment usually takes months.
- Chemotherapy given after surgery, also known as adjuvant chemotherapy, is to help reduce the risk that cancer cells will come back. If the surgeon didn’t get all the cancer in the first surgery, chemo may be used to shrink the cancer cells, then an additional surgery will be done to get the smaller cells.
- You may be given chemo before your surgery if the cancer is too large or widespread to help the surgeon be able to get it all in one surgery.This is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.
- If your cancer is too advanced for surgery, or your health is not well enough for surgery, chemotherapy will be your main treatment.
- Ovarian cancer has been shown to respond well to chemotherapy. Often, the cancer cells go away with the use of chemotherapy.
Use radiation in specific circumstances.Radiation therapy, which uses targeted high energy rays to damage or kill cancer cells in a specific site, is very rarely used to treat ovarian cancer. However, there are a few specific reasons why someone may use radiation therapy. It may be used when the cancer is only in the pelvic area to help kill any remaining cancer cells.Radiation may also be used in advanced ovarian cancer to help kill cancer cells that have spread to other organs.
- If radiation is used for treatment, it will most likely be external beam radiation, or the use of a machine outside the body to direct x-rays towards the targeted area. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks, with each treatment session lasting only several minutes, similar to other x-ray testing.
Take part in a clinical trial.You may consider taking part in a clinical trial as part of your treatment. Clinical research trials are an important process in cancer research. Clinical trials use the latest and most advanced treatment options that are being tested for effectiveness before being used for the general public. However, clinical trials are not right for everyone.
- Talk to your doctor about clinical trials in your area.
- You can search online for cancer organizations and hospitals running clinical trials.
Think about targeted treatment.Depending on your specific cancer, you may benefit from other types of treatment. Targeted therapy is a newer cancer treatment that may be available for you. Targeted therapy uses drugs that work like chemotherapy, except they only attack cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone. This leads to less damage and negative side effects.
- Targeted therapy slows the growth and shrinks cancer cells. This is usually used alongside chemotherapy.
- Targeted therapy has not been shown to help prolong the life of people with ovarian cancer.
- Targeted therapy may be used if chemotherapy is no longer working.
Meeting Your Physical and Emotional Needs
Consult with loved ones.As you go through treatment, you may want to consider discussing your treatment plans with your family.
- Tell them about your diagnosis, along with the stage of your cancer. Explain to them the surgeries you will have to remove any tumors you have, and the chemotherapy treatments that will follow.
- Talk to your loved ones about any options you have for taking part in a clinical trial or undergoing targeted therapy.
- Discuss how your cancer will affect your family life and career.
Seek mental care.Dealing with any kind of cancer can be difficult, but dealing with ovarian cancer may be particularly difficult. The cancer and treatment may lead to infertility, which may cause you emotional pain. You may also experience negative feelings where your femininity is concerned. You may just be scared because you have cancer. No matter what you are feeling, you should seek help if you are having trouble dealing with your cancer.
- You can get a referral to a therapist or counselor. Your treatment center, clinic, or hospital may have a counselor that deals specifically with cancer patients.
- If you are depressed, you may find talk therapy to be helpful, or you may choose to take antidepressants.
Find a support group.As you go through your treatment, you may find that you need additional support. You may be able to find a support network of friends and family, or you may choose to go to a cancer support group. Talking to others who have gone through what you are going through can help you as you undergo treatment.
- Many cancer organizations offer 24-hour hotlines where you can call and talk to trained specialists. You can voice your concerns, fears, and questions and receive feedback.
- There are also online support groups where you can talk to others who have had ovarian cancer.
Make lifestyle changes.As you go through your treatment, you should make healthy lifestyle changes to help keep you healthy and strong. Eat a balanced diet, get plenty of rest, and find ways to relieve stress.
- A balanced diet includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, protein, grains, and dairy. You should increase your vegetables and fruits and try to fill each plate halfway up with vegetables. Choose low-fat sources of protein and dairy, and choose complex carbohydrates. Limit refined carbohydrates and sugar.
- Everyone relieves stress differently. You can try yoga, deep breathing exercises, or meditation. You can go for a walk, spend time with friends and family, read a book, or listen to music.
Ask for help.Cancer treatments can be emotionally, mentally, and physically draining. When you tell your family or friends about your cancer and treatment, ask them for help. You may need someone to help you with household chores, cooking, or other tasks during this time.
- For example, say, "Since I have ovarian cancer, I may need help around the house.
Video: Chemo for Ovarian Cancer
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