Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Ovarian cancer usually responds well to chemotherapy.

You may have chemotherapy with surgery or it may be your main treatment. Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse will explain more about this.

You can have chemotherapy for ovarian cancer:

  • after surgery for early ovarian cancer to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • to treat any cancer cells or areas of cancer left behind after surgery
  • before surgery to shrink the cancer and make the operation easier and more effective (known as neo-adjuvant chemotherapy)
  • as a main treatment if the cancer has spread outside the abdomen or to the liver – it can help to control the cancer, reduce symptoms and help you feel better for longer
  • if the cancer comes back.

How you have chemotherapy

You usually have chemotherapy in the chemotherapy day unit and go home after it. Most drugs are given into a vein (intravenously) but some are given as tablets.

Your nurse will put a small tube (cannula) into a vein in your hand or arm. Or, you may have a soft plastic tube called a central line or PICC line put into a vein.

A nurse will give you the chemotherapy drugs through a drip (infusion) or through a syringe.

We have more information about ways in which chemotherapy is given.

Each session takes a few hours. After the session, you have a rest period. The chemotherapy and the rest period is called a cycle of chemotherapy. Most cycles are three weekly. Your doctor or nurse will explain more about this. You usually have about six cycles of chemotherapy, which is known as a course of treatment.

Chemotherapy before surgery

You usually have three cycles followed by a CT scan to see how effective chemotherapy has been. Your surgeon will then talk to you about whether an operation will benefit you.

If you have surgery, you will have three more cycles of chemotherapy after you have recovered from the operation. If you don’t have surgery, you will have a further three cycles of chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy drugs

The chemotherapy drug most commonly used to treat ovarian cancer is carboplatin. You have it on its own or in combination with the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel (Taxol).

We have more information about the combination of paclitaxel and carboplatin chemotherapy.

Sometimes other chemotherapy drugs may be used. These include:

If ovarian cancer comes back after treatment, it can often be controlled by having another course of chemotherapy. The drugs you have will depend on how long it is since you had your first chemotherapy and how the side effects of different chemotherapy drugs are likely to affect you.

Back to Chemotherapy explained

Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings while having chemotherapy treatment. Talking these over can be helpful.

Where can you have chemotherapy?

You usually have chemotherapy in a chemotherapy day unit or clinic. If your treatment is more complex, you may need to stay in hospital.