Ovarian cancer : Treatment

The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on how far it has spread, your general health and whether you're still able to have children.

Most people have a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

The aim of treatment is to cure the cancer if possible. If the cancer is too advanced to be cured, treatment aims to relieve symptoms and control the cancer for as long as possible.

You'll be cared for by a team of healthcare professionals who will come up with a treatment plan and support you throughout your treatment.


Surgery is the main treatment for ovarian cancer. The aim is to remove all of the cancer or as much of it as possible.

Surgery usually involves removing:

  • both ovaries and the fallopian tubes
  • the womb (a hysterectomy)
  • a layer of fatty tissue in the tummy (the omentum)

If the cancer is just in one or both ovaries, you may only need to have the ovary or ovaries removed, leaving your womb intact. This means you may still be able to have children.

Surgery is carried out under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep). You'll probably only need to stay in hospital for a few days, but it may take many weeks to fully recover.

Read about living with ovarian cancer for more information on recovering from surgery.

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Chemotherapy is where medication is used to kill cancer cells. Most women with ovarian cancer have it in addition to surgery.

It may be used:

  • after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells
  • before surgery to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove
  • if ovarian cancer comes back after initial treatment.

Chemotherapy medicine is usually given as a drip into the vein, but is sometimes given as tablets. You'll need to come into hospital to receive the treatment, but can normally go home the same day.

Treatment is given in cycles, with a period of treatment followed by a period of rest to allow your body to recover. Most women have 6 cycles of chemotherapy, with each cycle lasting 3 weeks.

Chemotherapy can cause some unpleasant side effects, such as:

  • tiredness
  • feeling and being sick 
  • loss of appetite
  • hair loss 
  • diarrhoea
  • increased risk of infections

Most side effects can be controlled with medication from your doctor and they should pass once treatment stops. Read more about the side effects of chemotherapy.

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Radiotherapy uses carefully directed beams of radiation to kill cancer cells.

It's not used very often to treat ovarian cancer, but may be used:

  • after surgery for early ovarian cancer, to kill any cancer cells left behind
  • to shrink tumours and reduce symptoms if ovarian cancer has spread and can't be cured

Common side effects of radiotherapy include sore skin, tiredness and hair loss in the treated area. These should pass after treatment stops.

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Clinical trials

Research into newer and better treatments for ovarian cancer is ongoing through clinical trials.

Speak to your care team if you're interested in participating in a trial as part of your treatment. They can let you know about any research you may be able to get involved in.

It's important to be aware that you might not get an experimental treatment (you may be given a standard treatment that's being compared to the new one) and there's no guarantee that a new treatment will be more effective.

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