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Treating ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer

The main treatments for cancer that starts in the ovaryfallopian tube or peritoneum are surgery and chemotherapy.

Sometimes other treatments are also used, such as radiotherapy or targeted therapies. Your cancer doctor may also talk with you about taking part in a clinical trial to research newer treatments.

The treatment you have is based on:

  • the type of cancer you have
  • its stage and grade
  • where it is
  • your general health
  • your personal preferences.

Ovarian cancer treatments can cause early menopause and affect your fertility (ability to get pregnant). If you still want to be able to get pregnant, talk to your cancer doctor before treatment starts.

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

Treating borderline tumours

Most borderline ovarian tumours are found at an early stage and can often be cured with surgery. No further treatment is needed and the tumour rarely comes back.

Sometimes, cells from these tumours spread and attach to nearby areas, such as the peritoneum. These are called non-invasive implants. They do not usually cause problems and often do not need to be treated. Instead, the doctor may monitor them at regular check-ups.

Rarely, borderline tumours spread and behave more like a low-grade cancer. Again, this may not need more treatment. Areas of spread may develop so slowly that you have no symptoms. But sometimes chemotherapy is used.

The ovarian cancer charity Ovacome has more detailed information about borderline ovarian tumours.

Treating stage 1 cancer

Some stage 1 cancers in the ovary or fallopian tubes can be cured with surgery alone.

Your doctor may advise you to have chemotherapy after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. This includes stage 1 cancers that are:

Treating stage 2 to 4 cancer

These stages of cancer are usually treated with surgery and chemotherapy, or with chemotherapy on its own. Treatment may cure the cancer or keep it under control for as long as possible. Your cancer doctor or nurse will explain what to expect.

Surgery is used to remove as much of the cancer as possible. After this, you have chemotherapy to:

  • treat cancer cells that cannot be seen during surgery – they can only be seen under a microscope
  • shrink any cancer that could not be removed during the operation.

Some people also have chemotherapy before surgery. This helps shrink the cancer so that the operation is easier to do and more likely to be effective.

Chemotherapy may be the main treatment if it is not possible to remove the cancer or if you are not well enough for surgery. The aim is to shrink the cancer, help to control it and relieve symptoms.

Treating cancer that comes back

If ovarian cancer comes back, it can usually be treated again with more chemotherapy, targeted therapies and sometimes more surgery. Some people will have several courses of chemotherapy or other treatments spaced over a few years. This is used to keep the cancer under control for a time and improve any symptoms.

Treating advanced cancer

If the cancer is very advanced, some people may decide to stop treatment or not to have treatment. Your cancer doctor and nurse will support you and help you control any symptoms. This is known as supportive or palliative care. You may see a specialist palliative care doctor or nurse for expert help with your symptoms.

We have more information about coping with advanced cancer.

About our information

  • References

    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

    Fotopoulou C, et al. British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) epithelial ovarian/ fallopian tube/ primary peritoneal cancer guidelines: recommendations for practice. European Journal of Obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. 2017. 213: 123-139.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Ovarian cancer: recognition and initial management. Clinical guideline (CG122). April 2011. Available from: (accessed June 2017). 

  • Reviewers

    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 Senior Medical Editor, Professor David Luesley, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.