Treatment for germ cell tumours of the ovary
Most girls and young women can now be completely cured of germ cell tumours. Your treatment will depend on the type of germ cell tumour and whether or not it has spread. Treatment usually involves a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. Sometimes radiotherapy is also given.
Your treatment will depend on the type of germ cell tumour that you have and whether or not it has spread outside the ovaries. Treatment is usually a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, although some girls will only need surgery. Germ cell tumours can often be cured.
An important part of ovarian cancer treatment is to try to make sure it doesn’t make you infertile (unable to get pregnant). Your doctors will think very carefully about this when planning your treatment. We've got some more information about fertility after treatment for ovarian cancer.
Surgery and chemotherapy
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You'll usually have chemo after your surgery. Some girls might also have more surgery after they’ve finished chemo if there’s still some tumour left behind.
Some girls only need an operation to remove the affected ovary and the fallopian tube. If it’s a very early germ cell tumour this might be the only treatment needed. After your operation you’ll come back to the clinic for regular checks (this is sometimes called surveillance). If there are any signs of the cancer coming back, it’s picked up and treated straightaway.
Having the affected ovary and fallopian tube removed won’t stop you from having a baby in the future. You can still get pregnant with only one ovary.
Before surgery you’ll have a general anaesthetic. During the op the surgeon will make a cut in the lower tummy, and the ovary is removed through this cut. The operation is called a laparotomy. There's more information about what to expect in the before surgery section and the after surgery section.
Occasionally, if the cancer has spread the surgeon may need to do an operation to try to remove as much of the tumour as possible. But they will still try to avoid the ovaries and the womb.
Removing the ovaries and the womb is only ever done if there’s no other way of successfully treating the cancer. Unfortunately this means not being able to get pregnant in the future, which can be very upsetting news. You may not have even have thought about having children yet, so it may be difficult to take this in. If this happens there’ll be lots of support to help you.
Chemo is given after the op to:
stop the cancer from coming back
get rid of any cancer cells that weren’t removed with surgery.
Your specialist will explain more about this to you. Germ cell tumours are very sensitive to chemo and most girls are cured. If it’s a very early germ cell tumour you might not even need chemo.
Chemo is given in cycles of treatment that usually take three weeks. You’ll have 3-4 cycles of treatment. Germ cell tumours are often treated with the drugs bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin - when these are given together it’s called BEP for short.
We have more information about BEP chemotherapy. This info is written for anyone who's looking for information about BEP chemotherapy, not just for young adults.
You’ll usually spend 3-5 days each week having your chemo as a day patient, or you might need to stay in hospital overnight. After this you’ll come back to the clinic for another injection of chemo once a week, then you’ll usually have no chemo for the last week of each cycle.
Different chemo drugs cause different side effects. Some girls just have a few side effects, and others have more. It's hard to know how it's going to be for you, as everyone’s different.
Most side effects are short-term (temporary) and gradually disappear once treatment stops. The most common side effects are hair loss, tiredness, sickness (which can be controlled), and being more at risk of getting an infection. Because doctors can’t be certain that having chemo won’t affect you being able to get pregnant (fertility) in the future, they may talk to you about storing your eggs. Although storing eggs is still experimental, it can be used with fertility treatments when you’re ready to try to get pregnant. Read more in our section on fertility in young women.
Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy x-rays that destroy cancer cells. Some types of germ cell tumour are more sensitive to radiotherapy.
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If you're looking for information about ovarian cancer in women of all ages please see our general ovarian cancer information.