Women's Health

Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to treat cancer. Most often, chemo is a systemic treatment. That means that the drugs are given in a way that lets them enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body. Systemic chemo can be useful for cancers that have metastasized (spread on other parts of the body). Most of the time, systemic chemo uses drugs that are injected into a vein or given by mouth. In some cases of ovarian cancer, chemotherapy may also be injected through a catheter directly into the abdominal cavity. This is called intraperitoneal chemotherapy. Drugs given this way are also absorbed into the bloodstream, so IP chemotherapy is also a type of systemic chemo. Here is what you need to know about ovarian cancer chemotherapy.

When you have it

You may have chemotherapy:

  • after surgery if your cancer is stage 1c or above
  • for an earlier stage cancer that is high grade
  • for some advanced cancers, both before and after surgery
  • for ovarian cancer that has come back after you were first treated

You usually have chemotherapy once every 3 weeks. Also, you usually have the chemotherapy drugs on day 1 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 total, but you may have more. It takes 3 to 4 hours to have each treatment in the outpatients department.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment into your bloodstream at the cancer day clinic. You might sit in the waiting room for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take newspapers, books or electronic devices to help to pass the time. You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You might be able to have some drugs through a small portable pump that you take home. For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could take a couple of days.

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 but some are given as tablets. Your nurse will put a small tube 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 or through a syringe.

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.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • bleeding and bruising easily
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • hair loss

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.