Ovarian Cancer Treatment by Stages [I to IV]

The ovarian cancer treatment depends on the type of ovarian cancer, stage of the disease, performance status of the patient, along with other factors.

Following are the preferred treatment approaches for different stages of ovarian cancer, but the final decision is taken after clinical assessment of the patient by an oncologist.

Ovary Cancer - Treatment - Infographic
Ovary Cancer - Treatment
I In case of Stage I epithelial ovarian cancer, upfront cytoreductive surgery is generally preferred. Chemotherapy may be added after surgery depending upon stage (IA/IB/IC), grade, and other factors.
II In case of Stage II epithelial ovarian cancer, cytoreductive surgery followed by chemotherapy may be done in most cases.
III In case of Stage III epithelial ovarian cancer, chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery. If the performance status of patient is poor or the disease is not upfront resectable, chemotherapy may be given before surgery, otherwise after surgery.
IV In case of Stage IV epithelial ovarian cancer, chemotherapy is considered as the first-line treatment. Surgery may also be employed after chemotherapy depending on response. Other palliative treatment may be used to relieve the symptoms of advanced disease.

Following is the brief description of various treatment types employed for ovarian cancer:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the mainstay of treatment for ovarian cancers. There are mainly 2 aims of surgery in ovarian cancer: first is to stage the disease and second is to remove maximum possible cancerous tissue (this is also called as debulking). For staging, the tissue removed during surgery is thoroughly tested in a laboratory.

    This help in establishing accurate stage and thus selecting an appropriate second-line treatment for the disease.For most patients, surgery for ovarian cancer involves removal of the uterus (hysterectomy), along with both ovaries and fallopian tubes (salpingo-oophorectomy or BSO). Depending upon the extent of disease, omentum (the fatty tissue layer covering abdominal organs) may also be removed (omentectomy) along with the affected lymph nodes and/or other structures with high suspicion of involvement by the disease.

    Any fluid present in the pelvis or abdominal cavity along with peritoneal washings are also collected for analysis. Blind biopsies may also be taken from certain places in case no gross disease is visible in abdomen. For a young patient with disease limited to one ovary/fallopian tube and who wish to retain fertility, fertility preservation surgery (involving removal of the affected ovary/fallopian tube and retention of the uterus and other ovary/fallopian tube [unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, USO]) is generally employed.
Ovary Cancer - Fertility Preservation Surgery - Infographic
Ovary Cancer - Fertility Preservation Surgery
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy means treatment with anti-cancer drugs that kill or decrease the growth of rapidly growing cancer cells. It is considered to be the mainstay of treatment for advanced stage disease that has spread to distant body parts. Depending on the physician’s preference and patient’s condition, it may also be combined with other treatment options to accelerate the benefit achievement.

    Sometimes, intraperitoneal chemotherapy is employed to deliver the anti-cancer drug directly in the affected tissue, which may reduce the systemic side effects. Chemotherapy may be used in the neoadjuvant (prior to surgery), adjuvant (after surgery) and palliative (metastatic disease) settings. It may be associated with side effects due to its effect on normal body cells apart from cancerous cells. Common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea, vomiting, hair loss, diarrhea, mouth ulcers, increased chances of infection, fatigue, decrease in the number of blood cells, etc.

  • Targeted Therapy: Targeted drugs are designed to target a specific gene or protein characteristic of the ovarian cancer cells. With the advancement in diagnostic techniques, a number of genetic abnormalities for breast cancer have been identified that can be targeted with the help of targeted drugs. Molecular testing to confirm the genetic abnormality is the pre-requisite for starting a targeted therapy. For example, bevacizumab targets vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) that stimulates the formation of blood vessels in the cancerous tissue.

It is very important to assess the benefits of each treatment option versus the possible risks and side effects before making a treatment decision. Sometimes, patient’s choice and health condition are also important to make a treatment choice. Following are ultimate goals of treating ovarian cancer:

  • Prolongation of life
  • Reduction of symptoms
  • Improvement of overall quality of life

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Watch the video below to better understand the treatment of ovarian cancer and the indications of fertility preservation surgery.

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