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Ovarian Cancer Basics: Discussing Risks
and Treatment Options
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 4)

Women with several risk factors or a personal history of breast cancer could be screened with a vaginal ultrasound and possibly blood tests that screen for “tumor markers.” Tumor markers can include testing for increased amounts of CA-125 or a protein in the blood that is generally higher in women who have ovarian cancer. There are still many clinical trials to develop further lines of research along blood tests so that quicker methods of detection can be brought to light.


Surgery is usually one of the first lines of defense when fighting ovarian cancer. Surgical options depend heavily on how far the cancer has spread and the type of ovarian cancer that is present. Some of these options can include removal of one or both ovaries, a total hysterectomy – which includes removal of the uterus as well as the ovaries – or cutting away the tumors in the tissues, leaving as much of the reproductive system intact as possible.

One thing to remember is that once a surgeon starts to remove tissue, he needs to have approval to remove as much as he feels necessary in order to prevent the cancer cells from spreading. Cancer that is not removed can quickly spread as a result of the surgery. Discuss how much surgery needs to be performed, especially if the woman is still old enough and wants to continue bearing children after treating the cancer. Bear in mind that once the procedure starts the surgeon may need to do more tissue removal than first anticipated and discuss the possibility that the surgery will be more extensive than first anticipated.

Depending on the stage of the cancer and the success of the surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment may or may not be necessary. Chemotherapy uses high-powered medications to destroy cancer-causing cells in the body. Unfortunately, chemotherapy does not discriminate between cancer cells and non-cancer cells, so normal cells are often killed during treatment as well. There are a number of side effects of chemotherapy that include nausea, vomiting, anemia (low red blood cell count), hair loss, and decreased white blood cell and platelet counts. Medications are available to combat these side effects, with the exception of hair loss. Generally hair will begin to grow back after chemotherapy is completed.

Chemotherapy is used in the event that doctors were not able to determine if all cancer was removed during surgery. The higher the staging of the cancer, the more likely it is that chemotherapy will be needed. Some tumors, for example, may not be removed completely by surgery and chemotherapy, in conjunction with radiation therapy, can shrink the tumors.

Most, but not all chemotherapy treatments are given intravenously, either through an IV that is inserted at each treatment or through an IV port that stays in the vein and accessed each time a treatment is needed. The port can be removed when chemotherapy is completed. Some chemotherapy treatments are given orally, while others may be given directly into the abdominal cavity or into a muscle (intramuscular). The type of chemotherapy used depends on the type of ovarian cancer being treated. In addition, the number of doses and the frequency also depend on the stage; these factors also take into consideration how quickly a patient can recover from a dose of chemotherapy treatment. Some patients can endure chemotherapy once every three weeks, while others may need slightly longer to recover. Normal cells need the chance to “bounce back” while not allowing cancer cells the same opportunity to recover. The doctor will discuss each of these factors when prescribing a treatment plan for chemotherapy.

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