Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Most patients with ovarian cancer will undergo a combined treatment of surgery and chemotherapy (and, in some cases, targeted therapy).

At Siteman Cancer Center, our team of Washington University gynecologic oncologists understand that every patient is unique. They will design a personalized treatment plan for you, taking into account not only the type, stage and even genetic profile of your cancer, but also your age, your desires for future fertility and your overall health.

Many patients at Siteman receive treatment through clinical trials. These research studies give patients access to new therapies, some that may even lead to better outcomes than the current standard of care. Siteman offers more clinical trials than any other facility in the region. If there is a particular trial that could be a good fit for you, your care team will be sure to discuss it with you.

We understand that you will probably have many questions and concerns as you go through treatment for ovarian cancer. There is no question too small or simple to ask. Your care team – your physicians, nurse coordinators, and other support personnel – will be with you every step of the way.

Surgery for ovarian cancer

Most patients with ovarian cancer will undergo surgery to remove the tumor. This will likely involve taking out the affected ovary, or ovaries, and, depending on the extent of the cancer, the uterus and fallopian tubes as well as other organs.

Washington University gynecologic oncologists at Siteman are renowned for performing complex procedures that are not always available at community hospitals. This includes cytoreductive surgery, a procedure specially designed to control the growth of cancer within the abdominal and pelvic cavity.

Learn more about surgery for ovarian cancer.

Radiation therapy for ovarian cancer

Radiation therapy is not often used to treat ovarian cancer. However, in some cases, it can be beneficial.

At Siteman, experienced Washington University gynecologic specialized radiation oncologists use advanced tools and techniques to target tumors while sparing surrounding tissues.

Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer

Chemotherapies are powerful medicines that kill cancer cells wherever they may be found in the body.

Ovarian cancer patients receive chemotherapy through an IV. The drugs can be infused into a vein in the arm, into a port placed in the chest or, in some cases, into the abdominal cavity. This is called intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Sometimes, it’s recommended for women with stage III ovarian cancer or primary peritoneal cancer. Because it attacks cancer cells directly at the source, it can be highly effective.

Most patients tolerate chemotherapy well. If chemotherapy is recommended for you, your oncologist will go over common side effects. These include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and low blood counts, or, reduced numbers of red blood cells and white blood cells in the bloodstream.  Low blood counts can make you more susceptible to bleeding, bruising and infections.

Patients may find that intraperitoneal chemotherapy causes more side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

At Siteman, we recognize that starting chemotherapy can be overwhelming. To help you through treatment, a dedicated nurse coordinator will spend additional one-on-one time with you and any support persons to make sure all of your questions and concerns are addressed. Your nurse coordinator will provide you with:

  • Educational material on common chemotherapy side effects
  • Prescriptions for medications that help prevent side effects before they occur
  • A schedule of all of your treatments

We will guide you through this process. If you have already started your treatments and have questions, or are starting to notice bothersome symptoms, be sure to speak to your care team so that we can optimize your care and better support you.

Targeted therapy for ovarian cancer

Targeted therapies are medications that attack the mechanisms inside cancer cells that allow them to grow and multiply. Some patients with ovarian cancer will receive targeted therapies, often after trying conventional chemotherapies first.

If you are found to have a BRCA mutation, in particular, your physician may suggest targeted medications called PARP inhibitors that prevent cancer cells from making repairs to their DNA.

Ovarian cancer patients receive targeted therapies either as intravenous infusions or as pills.

Fertility preservation

One significant consequence of undergoing surgery to remove the ovaries is that women are left unable to conceive a child. While such a course of treatment may be necessary to protect a patient’s life, Washington University oncologists at Siteman also recognize that it can be devastating for women who still hope to have children.

If you are a young woman with ovarian cancer and are facing a fertility-ending surgery or treatment, you still have options. Siteman offers a specialized team of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (REI) physicians who provide a number of services and procedures that can enable patients to have a child, including egg banking and embryo banking. Due to the need for immediate cancer therapies, the REI team offers quick consultation appointments to allow patients to know their options for having future children.