Advanced ovarian cancer

Advanced ovarian cancer is cancer that has spread into the surrounding tissues or away from the original site (metastasised) and is less likely to be cured. It can often be treated to slow its growth and ongoing spread, sometimes for months or years. Treatment can also help reduce symptoms, such as pain.

Cancer that has metastasised keeps the name of the original, primary cancer, so the cancer will still be called ovarian cancer even if it has spread to the abdomen, for example. Some women find out that their cancer is advanced when it is first diagnosed. In other cases, the ovarian cancer is advanced when it comes back after treatment

In many cases, by the time ovarian cancer is diagnosed it has spread from the ovary and is advanced. About 7 out of 10 (70%) women are stage III or stage IV at diagnosis.

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Treatment options

If surgery is recommended for advanced cancer, you may be offered a course of chemotherapy before surgery (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy) or after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy).

New targeted therapy drugs are being offered to women with advanced ovarian cancer with a BRCA mutation.

Radiation therapy is another treatment that is sometimes used to control advanced ovarian cancer. Your doctors will discuss with you the best treatment options available for your particular situation. 

Palliative treatment

Palliative treatment helps to improve people’s quality of life by managing the symptoms of cancer without trying to cure the disease. It is best thought of as supportive care.

Many people think that palliative treatment is for people at the end of their life, but it may be beneficial for people at any stage of advanced ovarian cancer. It is about living for as long as possible in the most satisfying way you can.

As well as slowing the spread of cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. The treatment may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. If you are experiencing swelling and are uncomfortable, you may have a procedure called paracentesis or ascitic tap to drain the extra fluid from your abdomen.

Palliative treatment is one aspect of palliative care, in which a team of health professionals aim to meet your physical, practical, emotional, spiritual and social needs. For more information, see  Palliative care and Living with advanced cancer.

Video: What is palliative care?

Find out how palliative treatment aims to manage symptoms and improve people’s quality of life without trying to cure the disease.

This information was last reviewed in April 2018
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