Surgery is used to diagnose ovarian cancer and determine its stage, but it is also the first phase of treatment. The goal is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. This may include a single ovary and nearby tissue in stage I. In more advanced stages, it may be necessary to remove both ovaries, along with the uterus and surrounding tissues.
In all stages of ovarian cancer, chemotherapy is usually given after surgery. This phase of treatment uses drugs to target and kill any remaining cancer in the body. The drugs may be given by mouth, through an IV, or directly into the belly (intraperitoneal chemotherapy.) Women with LMP tumors usually don’t need chemo unless the tumors grow back after surgery.
Researchers are working on therapies that target the way ovarian cancer grows. A process called angiogenesis involves the formation of new blood vessels to feed tumors. A drug called Avastin blocks this process, causing tumors to shrink or stop growing (seen in the illustration here). Avastin is approved for other cancers, but ovarian cancer researchers are still testing this therapy, which can have serious side effects.
After Treatment: Early Menopause
When women have both ovaries removed, they can no longer produce their own estrogen. This triggers menopause, no matter how young the patient. The drop in hormone levels can also raise the risk for certain medical conditions, including osteoporosis. It’s vital that women have regular follow-up care after being treated for ovarian cancer.
After Treatment: Moving On
Women may find that it takes a long time for their energy to return after treatments end. Fatigue is a very common problem after treatment for cancer. Beginning a gentle exercise program is one of the most effective ways to restore energy and improve emotional well-being. Check with your health care team to determine which activities are right for you.
Risk Reducer: Pregnancy
Women who have biological children are less likely to get ovarian cancer than women who have never given birth. The risk appears to decrease with every pregnancy, and breastfeeding may offer added protection.
Risk Reducer: ‘The Pill’
Ovarian cancer is also less common in women who have taken birth control pills. Women who have used the pill for at least five years have about half the risk of women who never took the pill. Like pregnancy, birth control pills prevent ovulation. Some researchers think ovulating less often may protect against ovarian cancer
Risk Reducer: Tubal Ligation
Getting your tubes tied, formally known as tubal ligation, may offer some protection against ovarian cancer. The same goes for having a hysterectomy – removing the uterus while leaving the ovaries intact.
Risk Reducer: Removing the Ovaries
For women with genetic mutations that put them at high risk for ovarian cancer, removing the ovaries is an option. This can also be considered in women over 40 getting a hysterectomy.
Risk Reducer: Low-Fat Diet
While there is no definitive diet to prevent ovarian cancer, there is evidence that what you eat can make a difference. In one recent study, women who stuck to a low-fat diet for at least four years were less likely to develop ovarian cancer. Some researchers report the cancer is also less common in women who eat a lot of vegetables, but more studies are needed.