Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. You are most likely to have chemotherapy after surgery if your cancer is Stage 1c or higher. Or you may have it if you have an earlier stage cancer that your doctor thinks may be faster growing (high grade). Some women with advanced ovarian cancer will have chemotherapy both before and after surgery. You can also have chemotherapy for ovarian cancer that has come back after you were first treated.

Chemotherapy drugs for ovarian cancer are usually given through a drip into your bloodstream. The most commonly used drugs are carboplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol). You may have a single drug or a combination of drugs.

If your cancer has come back you may be given a different drug. Other chemotherapy drugs for ovarian cancer that has come back include

  • Paclitaxel on its own, usually as a weekly treatment
  • Liposomal doxorubicin (Caelyx, Myocet or Doxil)
  • Gemcitabine
  • Cisplatin
  • Topotecan
  • Etoposide
  • Cyclophosphamide

All chemotherapy has side effects. Which ones you get depend on the drugs you have, the dose and your individual reaction. 

There are various ways your doctor can find out how well your chemotherapy treatment has worked. These include CA125 blood tests and scans.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating ovarian cancer section.

 

 

How you have chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Your doctor is most likely to suggest chemotherapy after surgery if your cancer is stage 1c or above. Or you may have it for an earlier stage cancer that is high grade. For some advanced cancers, you may have chemotherapy both before and after surgery. You can also have chemotherapy for ovarian cancer that has come back after you were first treated (recurrence).

You are most likely to have chemotherapy for ovarian cancer through a drip into a vein. There are a number of chemotherapy drugs and treatment plans. You may have a single chemotherapy drug or a combination of drugs. The chemotherapy drugs you have may depend on the stage of your cancer, and what chemotherapy drugs you have had before (if any).

Some women with advanced ovarian cancer may have a type of biological therapy drug called bevacizumab (Avastin) with chemotherapy.

 

Chemotherapy drugs for ovarian cancer

Carboplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol) are chemotherapy drugs often used to treat ovarian cancer. They are given into a vein through a drip. You usually have chemotherapy once every 3 weeks. Each treatment is followed by a rest period to allow you to recover from side effects. Each 3 week period is called a cycle of treatment. You normally have about 6 cycles in all. But you may have more. 

It takes 3 to 4 hours to have each treatment in the outpatients department. On rare occasions you might have it over 24 hours. In this case you would stay in hospital overnight. 

View a transcript of this video here. (Opens in a new window)

Read more about carboplatin and paclitaxel (Taxol)

You can search for individual chemotherapy drugs in our drug section. 

 

Chemo for cancer that comes back 

Ovarian cancer that comes back is called recurrent ovarian cancer. It can be treated with chemotherapy. Which drugs you have depend on a few factors such as how well the previous treatment worked, the length of time since your last treatment and what side effects you had. 

If your cancer comes back more than 6 months after having chemotherapy, your specialist may suggest having carboplatin again - sometimes in combination with another drug, such as gemcitabine or paclitaxel. 

If your cancer comes back less than 6 months after having chemotherapy, your specialist may suggest one or more of the following treatments

Other drugs that are sometimes used include topotecan

Not all these treatments are recommended for everyone. You should talk with your doctor about what may be helpful in your situation. 

Unfortunately chemotherapy cannot usually cure ovarian cancer that has come back. But it can help to control it for many months or sometimes years.

 

Chemotherapy side effects

All chemotherapy has side effects. The effects you get depend on

  • The particular drugs that you have
  • How much of each drug you have
  • How you individually react to each drug

Chemotherapy can cause side effects including

You can search for individual chemotherapy drugs and their side effects in our drug finder section.

Ask your doctor or nurse which side effects are most common with the chemotherapy drugs you will be having. Tell your doctor or nurse straight away about any side effects you have, so they can help you. There may be treatment you can have to help. 

 

 

Monitoring treatment

There are various ways your doctor can find out how well your chemotherapy has worked. You may have CA125 blood tests or scans. 

CA125 blood test

CA125 is a protein made by some ovarian cancer cells. It circulates in the bloodstream. It is usually measured before you start treatment. If you had high levels, your doctor will expect the level to fall as the cancer is killed by the chemotherapy. You may have CA125 blood tests before each chemotherapy treatment or when your whole course of treatment has finished. This can show how well the treatment is working. 

Note: Not all women with ovarian cancer have raised CA125 levels. If you did not have raised CA125 when you were first diagnosed, this blood test cannot be used to monitor your treatment or during follow up. 

Scans

If you had a tumour that your doctor could measure on a scan, they may want to repeat the scan after your treatment to see if the tumour has shrunk. 

If your cancer is still there after your chemotherapy has finished, more of the same chemotherapy is unlikely to get rid of it completely. It will almost certainly grow back, although it could be a long time before it begins to cause any symptoms. 

Your doctor may just want to monitor you to begin with. Or in some cases, you may be able to have more surgery. If the cancer is causing symptoms, you may have more chemotherapy. Some women may have radiotherapy. Or you may have treatment as part of a clinical trial.

 

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Or if you are prescribed them by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners.

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking or thinking of taking these supplements talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

 

More information about chemotherapy

For more about chemotherapy look at the chemotherapy section. It explains the treatment in detail including

If you would like more information about chemotherapy, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

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Updated: 7 April 2016