Ovarian Cancer: Choosing the Best Treatment for You


Sarah Lewis, PharmD

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Woman talking with doctor

Treatment options for ovarian cancer depend on the stage—or extent—of the cancer. Unfortunately, most ovarian cancers are in advanced stages at diagnosis. The goal of treatment is to cure the cancer if possible. When a cure is not likely, treatment is palliative. It aims to relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life. For ovarian cancer, two or more types of treatments are usually necessary.


Surgery is a main treatment for most ovarian cancers. The two main goals of surgery are to stage and debulk the disease. Debulking means removing as much of the cancer as possible. To stage the disease, doctors typically remove the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. If the cancer appears to have spread throughout the abdomen, debulking can involve more extensive removal of abdominal organs and tissue. Chemotherapy typically follows surgery.


Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. For ovarian cancer, doctors usually combine two or more chemotherapy medicines. They give these drugs either through a vein or directly into the abdominal cavity. Chemotherapy is often successful at shrinking or clearing ovarian cancer. However, cancer cells may eventually start growing again.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy uses specific markers to identify and attack cancer cells without damaging normal cells. As a result, side effects tend to be less severe than traditional chemotherapy. Doctors typically use targeted therapies for advanced ovarian cancers. These drugs can help shrink ovarian tumors and stop them from growing which can help relieve symptoms in advanced stages.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is no longer a main treatment for ovarian cancer. Doctors may still use it to treat areas where the cancer has spread.

Considering Your Treatment Options

Talk with your doctor and discuss the goals, side effects, and benefits of each treatment option. It’s also important to understand the likelihood of a cure with current treatments. Key questions to ask your doctor include:

  • Has cancer spread outside my ovaries?

  • What are the stage, grade, and cell type of my cancer?

  • What are the side effects, risks, and benefits of the treatment you are recommending?

  • How can I prepare for treatment?

  • What are the chances of cancer coming back after treatment?

  • What is my prognosis?

Women with ovarian cancer may want to consider enrolling in a clinical trial for access to experimental treatments. Ask your doctor if you are a candidate.