Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer
Chemotherapy is the treatment of cancer with anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs. The aim is to destroy cancer cells while causing the least possible damage to normal, healthy cells. Chemotherapy may be used at different times:
Learn more about:
- When is chemotherapy used?
- Having chemotherapy
- Intraperitoneal chemotherapy
- Blood tests during chemotherapy
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- Video: What is chemotherapy?
When is chemotherapy used?
Chemotherapy is usually given 2–4 weeks after the surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) as there may be some cancer cells still in the body. For ovarian cancer, the drugs are usually given in repeating cycles spread over 4–5 months, but this can vary depending on the stage of the cancer and your general health. Your treatment team will provide details about your specific schedule.
For stage 3 or 4 ovarian cancer, chemotherapy is sometimes given before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy). The aim is to shrink the tumours to make them easier to remove. This usually involves three cycles of chemotherapy, followed by surgery, and then another three cycles.
Chemotherapy may be recommended as the main treatment if you are not well enough for a major operation or when the cancer cannot be surgically removed.
Chemotherapy is usually given as a combination of two or more drugs, or sometimes as a single drug. Let your oncologist know if you are taking nutritional or herbal supplements as these can interact with chemotherapy and may lessen the effect.
In most cases, the drugs are delivered into a vein (intravenous drip). To reduce the need for repeated needles, you may receive chemotherapy through a small medical appliance or tube inserted beneath your skin. This may be called a port-a-cath or a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC), or it may have another name.
You will usually have chemotherapy as an outpatient (also called a day patient), but some people need to stay in hospital overnight.
|Each chemotherapy treatment is called a cycle and is followed by a rest period to give your body time to recover. Ask your doctor about the treatment plan recommended for you.|
For more on this, see our general section on Chemotherapy, or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Occasionally, chemotherapy is given directly into the abdominal cavity – the space between the organs in the abdomen and the walls of the abdomen. This is known as intraperitoneal chemotherapy.
In this method, the drugs are delivered through a tube (catheter) that is put in place during surgery and removed once the course of chemotherapy is over.
Intraperitoneal chemotherapy is used only in specialised units in Australia. It may be offered for stage 3 disease with less than 1 cm of tumour remaining after surgery. Some studies have shown it may be more effective than giving chemotherapy through an intravenous drip.
Ask your medical oncologist for more information about this type of chemotherapy and the benefits and risks.
Blood tests during chemotherapy
Before each chemotherapy session, you will have blood tests to ensure your body’s healthy cells have had time to recover. If your blood count has not recovered, your doctor may delay treatment.
In some cases, you may also have blood tests during treatment to check your tumour markers, such as CA125. If the CA125 level was high before chemotherapy, it can be monitored to see if the treatment is working.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
A/Prof Sam Saidi, Senior Staff Specialist, Gynaecological Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; A/Prof Penny Blomfield, Gynaecological Oncologist, Hobart Women’s Specialists, and Chair, Australian Society of Gynaecologic Oncologists, TAS; Dr Robyn Cheuk, Senior Radiation Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Sonja Kingston, Consumer; Clinical A/Prof Judy Kirk, Head, Familial Cancer Service, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, and Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Linda Mileshkin, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Researcher, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Support Team, Ovarian Cancer Australia; Emily Stevens, Gynaecology Oncology Nurse Coordinator, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Dr Amy Vassallo, Fussell Family Foundation Research Fellow, Cancer Research Division, Cancer Council NSW; Merran Williams, Consumer.
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