Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer
On this page
- What is chemotherapy?
- When chemotherapy is used for cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube or peritoneum
- Chemotherapy drugs used for cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube or peritoneum
- How chemotherapy is given
- Treating ovarian cancer that comes back
- Side effects of chemotherapy
- About our information
- How we can help
You usually have chemotherapy with surgery or sometimes on its own.
It can be given :
- after surgery – to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (adjuvant chemotherapy)
- before surgery – to shrink the cancer to make the operation more effective (neo-adjuvant chemotherapy)
- to treat any cancer that cannot be removed during surgery
- as your main treatment – if your doctors think surgery is not the best treatment option for you, or if you are not well enough to have a big operation.
Chemotherapy after surgery
You usually have chemotherapy when you have recovered from your operation. You usually start it about 4 weeks after surgery. But it may start up to 12 weeks after.
Stage 1 ovarian cancer
If you have stage 1 ovarian cancer, you may also have chemotherapy after surgery. Your specialist doctor will talk to you about this. They may ask you to think about having chemotherapy if the cancer was either:
- grade 3
- stage 1c
We have more information about staging and grading of ovarian cancer.
Chemotherapy before surgery
If you have chemotherapy before surgery, you usually have it every 3 weeks for 3 treatment cycles.
You will usually have 3 more cycles of chemotherapy after you have recovered from the operation.
If you do not have surgery, you will still have another 3 cycles of chemotherapy. You will have 6 cycles in total.
You may have carboplatin on its own if:
- you are not well enough to cope with the side effects of the 2 drugs
- you have early-stage ovarian cancer.
Sometimes you have chemotherapy and a targeted therapy drug called bevacizumab (Avastin®).
Other chemotherapy drugs you may have include:
You usually have chemotherapy in the chemotherapy day unit. This means you can go home after your treatment. The drugs are usually given into a vein (intravenously).
How often you have chemotherapy
You have chemotherapy as 1 or more sessions of treatment. Each session takes a few hours. After the session, you have a rest period of a few weeks. The chemotherapy session and rest period are called a cycle of treatment.
The length of a cycle depends on the chemotherapy drugs you have. But most cycles are 1 to 3 weeks. If you are having a single drug on its own, you may have it every 4 weeks. Your specialist doctor or nurse will explain what to expect. Most courses of chemotherapy have 6 cycles.
We have more information about having chemotherapy.
If the cancer comes back, it can usually be controlled by more chemotherapy. If your first treatment with a platinum drug (carboplatin or cisplatin) worked well, you may have the same drug again. But you may have it with other drugs such as liposomal doxorubicin or gemcitabine.
If the cancer comes back soon after treatment has finished, you will have different drugs. For example, you may have liposomal doxorubicin by itself.
Chemotherapy drugs may cause side effects. But these can usually be controlled with medicines and will usually go away after treatment has finished.
Not all drugs cause the same side effects for each person. Some people have very few side effects. Your specialist doctor or nurse will explain what to expect.
Some general side effects of chemotherapy include:
- a higher risk of getting an infection
- more risk of bleeding or bruising
- feeling tired
- feeling sick
- hair thinning or hair loss.
We have more information about the side effects of chemotherapy.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our ovarian cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ledermann, Raja, Fotopoulou et al. Newly diagnosed and relapsed epithelial ovarian carcinoma: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Annals of Oncology, 2013; Volume 24, Supplement 6. Updated online 2020. Available from www.esmo.org/guidelines (accessed July 2021)
Management of epithelial ovarian cancer. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN). Nov 2013 revised 2018. Available from www.sign.ac.uk.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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