The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on how far it has spread, your general health and whether you're still able to have children.
Most people have a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.
The aim of treatment is to cure the cancer, if possible. If the cancer is too advanced to be cured, treatment aims to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.
You'll be cared for by a team of healthcare professionals who will create a treatment plan and support you throughout your treatment.
Surgery is the main treatment for ovarian cancer. The aim is to remove all of the cancer, or as much of it as possible.
Surgery usually involves removing:
- both ovaries and the fallopian tubes
- the womb (a hysterectomy)
- a layer of fatty tissue in the tummy (the omentum)
If the cancer is just in 1 or both ovaries, you may only need to have the ovary or ovaries removed, leaving your womb intact. This means you may still be able to have children.
Surgery is done under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep). You'll probably need to stay in hospital for a few days, but it may take many weeks to fully recover.
Read more about recovering from surgery on our page about living with ovarian cancer.
Chemotherapy is where medicine is used to kill cancer cells. Most women with ovarian cancer have chemotherapy in addition to surgery.
It may be used:
- after surgery, to kill any remaining cancer cells
- before surgery, to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove
- if ovarian cancer comes back after initial treatment
Chemotherapy medicine is usually given by a drip into a vein, but is sometimes given as tablets. You'll need to go into hospital to receive the treatment, but you can usually go home the same day.
Treatment is given in cycles, with a period of treatment followed by a period of rest to allow your body to recover. Most people have 6 cycles of chemotherapy, with each cycle lasting 3 weeks.
Chemotherapy can cause some unpleasant side effects, such as:
Most side effects can be controlled with medicine from your doctor, and they should pass once treatment stops.
Read more about the side effects of chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy uses carefully directed beams of radiation to kill cancer cells.
It's not used very often to treat ovarian cancer, but may be used:
- after surgery for early ovarian cancer, to kill any cancer cells left behind
- to shrink tumours and reduce symptoms if ovarian cancer has spread and cannot be cured
Common side effects of radiotherapy include sore skin, tiredness and hair loss in the treated area. These should pass after treatment stops.
Targeted therapies are medicines that change the way cells work and help to stop cancer from growing and spreading. Not all types of ovarian cancer can be treated with targeted therapies.
There are 2 targeted therapies for ovarian cancer:
- olaparib (Lynparza)
- niraparib (Zejula)
These medicines are only suitable for some types of ovarian cancer and may be given if cancer comes back after a course of chemotherapy.
They are taken as a tablet or capsule. The side effects of targeted therapies include:
- feeling sick
- loss of appetite
Research into newer and better treatments for ovarian cancer is ongoing through clinical trials.
Speak to your care team if you're interested in participating in a trial as part of your treatment. They can let you know about any research you may be able to get involved in.
It's important to be aware that you might not get an experimental treatment (you may be given a standard treatment that's being compared to the new one) and there's no guarantee that a new treatment will be more effective.
- Cancer Research UK: ovarian cancer research and clinical trials
Page last reviewed: 10 February 2020
Next review due: 10 February 2023