Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Peritoneal Cancer - Treatment Options

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2016

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about the different treatments doctors use for women with this type of cancer. Use the menu to see other pages.

This section tells you the treatments that are the standard of care for these types of cancer. “Standard of care” means the best treatments known. Ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and peritoneal cancer are usually treated the same way.

When making treatment plan decisions, patients are encouraged to consider clinical trials as an option. A clinical trial is a research study that tests a new approach to treatment. Doctors want to learn whether it is safe, effective, and possibly better than the standard treatment. Clinical trials can test a new drug, a new combination of standard treatments, or new doses of standard drugs or other treatments. Your doctor can help you consider all your treatment options. To learn more about clinical trials, see the About Clinical Trials and Latest Research sections.

Treatment overview

In cancer care, different types of doctors often work together to create a patient’s overall treatment plan that combines different types of treatments. This is called a multidisciplinary team. Cancer care teams include a variety of other health care professionals, including physician assistants, oncology nurses, social workers, pharmacists, counselors, dietitians, and others.

Descriptions of the most common treatment options for ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and peritoneal cancer are listed below. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, possible side effects, and the patient’s preferences and overall health or personal considerations, such as a woman’s age and if she is planning to have children in the future.

Your care plan may include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care. Take time to learn about all of your treatment options and be sure to ask questions about things that are unclear. Talk about the goals of each treatment with your doctor and what you can expect while receiving the treatment. Learn more about making treatment decisions.

Women with ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or peritoneal cancer may have concerns about if or how their treatment may affect their sexual health and their ability to have children in the future. All patients are encouraged to talk with the health care team about these topics before treatment begins.

Surgery

Surgery is usually an important treatment for ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and peritoneal cancer. A gynecologic oncologist is a doctor who specializes in gynecological cancers, including surgery and chemotherapy.

As mentioned in Diagnosis, surgery is often needed to find out the complete extent of the disease. The goal is to provide an accurate stage. This is important because imaging tests aren’t always able to see the true extent of a disease. Up to 30% of women whose imaging tests seem to show early ovarian disease actually have disease that has spread to other organs.

To determine whether ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer has spread, the surgeon will remove lymph nodes, tissue samples, and fluid from the abdomen for testing. If it is clear during the surgery that the cancer has spread, the surgeon will remove as much of the cancer as possible. This has been shown to provide the best benefit when combined with chemotherapy (see below) after surgery.

There are several surgical options for ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer. The stage of the tumor determines the types of surgery. Sometimes doctors perform two or more procedures during the same surgery

  • Salpingo-oophorectomy. This surgery involves removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes. If both ovaries and both fallopian tubes are removed, it is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. If the woman wants to become pregnant in the future and has early-stage cancer, it may be possible to remove only one ovary and one fallopian tube if the cancer is located in only one ovary. That surgery is called a unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. For women with a germ cell type of ovarian tumor, surgery often needs to remove only the ovary with the tumor, which preserves the woman’s ability to become pregnant.

  • Hysterectomy. This surgery focuses on the removal of a woman’s uterus and, if necessary, surrounding tissue. If only the uterus is removed, it is called a partial hysterectomy. A total hysterectomy is when a woman’s uterus and cervix are removed.

  • Lymphadenectomy (lymph node dissection). The surgeon may remove lymph nodes in the pelvis and paraortic areas.

  • Omentectomy. This is surgery to remove the thin tissue that covers the stomach and large intestine.

  • Cytoreductive/debulking surgery. For women with metastatic cancer, the goal of this surgery is to remove as much tumor as is safely possible. This may include removing tissue from nearby organs, such as the spleen, gallbladder, stomach, bladder, or colon. This may involve removing part of each of these organs. This procedure can help reduce a person’s symptoms. It may help increase the effectiveness of other treatment, such as chemotherapy, given after surgery to control the disease that remains. If the disease has spread beyond ovaries, fallopian tubes, or peritoneum, doctors may use chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before cytoreductive or debulking surgery. This is called neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

    Debulking surgery should be performed by an experienced gynecologic oncologist. Talk with your doctor before surgery about the risks and benefits of this procedure. Ask about the surgeon’s experience with debulking surgery for this type of cancer.

    Side effects of surgery

    Surgery causes short-term pain and tenderness. If there is pain, the doctor will prescribe an appropriate medication. For several days after the operation, you may have difficulty emptying your bladder (urinating) and having bowel movements. Talk with your surgeon about what side effects to expect from your specific surgery and how they can be relieved.

    Studies have shown that women who have their surgeries performed by a gynecologic oncologist are more likely to be successfully treated with surgery and have fewer side effects.

    If the surgeon removes both ovaries, a woman can no longer become pregnant. The loss of both ovaries eliminates the body's source of sex hormones, resulting in premature menopause. Soon after surgery, a woman is likely to have menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes and vaginal dryness.

    Talk with your doctor about sexual and reproductive health concerns, including ways to address these concerns before and after cancer treatment.

    Learn more about the basics of cancer surgery.

    Chemotherapy

    Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells, usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Chemotherapy is given by a gynecological oncologist or a medical oncologist, a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with medication.

    Systemic chemotherapy gets into the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. Common ways to give chemotherapy include an intravenous (IV) tube placed into a vein using a needle or in a pill or capsule that is swallowed (orally).

    A chemotherapy regimen (schedule) usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a set period of time. A patient may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time.
    Most of the chemotherapy options described below apply to epithelial ovarian cancer, as well as fallopian tube cancer and peritoneal cancer. The type of the chemotherapy used depends on several factors.

    • Adjuvant chemotherapy. This is done to destroy cancer remaining after surgery. This treatment typically consists of carboplatin (Paraplatin) given with paclitaxel (Taxol) or docetaxel (Docefrez, Taxotere) intravenously (IV), which is through the vein. Most of these drugs are given every 3 weeks.

      Another approach is called “dose-dense” chemotherapy. This is when the drugs are giving weekly instead of every 3 weeks. Some studies show that using dose-dense paclitaxel with carboplatin may improve survival rates compared to giving the drugs every 3 weeks. Talk with your doctor about which scheduling option is best for your situation.

      In addition, a third way to give adjuvant chemotherapy is to infuse it directly into the abdomen. This is called intraperitoneal or “IP” chemotherapy. This approach can be considered for women with stage III disease after a successful surgical debulking procedure. In previous studies, IP treatment was more effective when compared to intravenous treatment on the every 3-week schedule.

      Studies comparing dose-dense (weekly) IV chemotherapy with carboplatin and paclitaxel to IP chemotherapy with the same drugs show similar outcomes. Doctors are discussing whether the more intense IV approach can replace the use of IP chemotherapy.

      With each of these approaches, doctors consider a variety of factors, such as age, kidney function, and other existing health problems.

      Research studies are underway to see if additional medications, such as PARP inhibitors, should be used. Several studies have evaluated whether adding bevacizumab (Avastin), which is an anti-vascular or “blood vessel growth blocking” antibody, to standard chemotherapy following initial surgery is helpful. In general, bevacizumab used for ovarian cancer has prolonged the time in some patients before the cancer returns; see Latest Research.

    • Neoadjuvant chemotherapy. This is done to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery. It will usually follow a biopsy so the doctors can determine where the tumor began. This type of chemotherapy is usually given for 3 to 4 cycles before considering surgery, called interval surgery. Similar to adjuvant chemotherapy (see above), this treatment usually consists of carboplatin (Paraplatin) given with paclitaxel (Taxol) or docetaxel (Docefrez, Taxotere) intravenously, which is through the vein. Typically, the treatment cycle is to give these drugs every 3 weeks. Studies suggest a weekly schedule for the paclitaxel. Talk with your doctor about which scheduling option is best for your treatment plan.

      In August 2016, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) released a joint clinical practice guideline on the use of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, which is chemotherapy given before surgery, for women with newly diagnosed, advanced ovarian cancer. Listen to a podcast about what this treatment guideline means for patients.

    • Maintenance chemotherapy. This is done to reduce the time to, or risk of, cancer recurrence. Bevacizumab (Avastin) can be used for maintenance chemotherapy for people with ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer. 

    • Recurrence chemotherapy. This is done to treat the cancer if it comes back, called a recurrence. A primary goal of the treatment of recurrent disease is to reduce or prevent symptoms of the disease while keeping the side effects of treatment to a minimum. Treatment for women with recurrent disease is generally categorized based on the time since her last treatment using a platinum chemotherapy drug. Platinum chemotherapy drugs include carboplatin and cisplatin. Researchers are working to see if surgery is an effective option for recurrent disease.

    • Platinum-sensitive disease: If the cancer returns more than 6 months after platinum chemotherapy, doctors call it “platinum-sensitive.” If it returns to one specific spot, additional surgery may be beneficial. You can discuss this with your doctor. Surgery is usually considered only if the time period following chemotherapy has been at least 12 months. If the cancer comes back to more than one place in the body, chemotherapy is the appropriate next step. For patients with platinum sensitive disease, clinical trials suggest there is benefit to using carboplatin again intravenously and combining it with liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil), paclitaxel (Taxol), or gemcitabine (Gemzar).

      A clinical trial evaluated adding bevacizumab to the gemcitabine and carboplatin combination. This extended the time before the disease came back but did not change the overall survival rate. You should discuss the risks and possible benefits of this approach with your doctor. 

    • Platinum-resistant disease: If the cancer returns in less than 6 months following platinum chemotherapy, doctors call it “platinum resistant.” In general, the choice of chemotherapy at this point is selected from a variety of medications that have all shown similar ability to shrink cancer. Doctors choose them based on possible side effects and preference based on schedule of dosing. These medications may include, but are not limited to:

      • Liposomal doxorubicin (Doxil)

      • Paclitaxel (Taxol)

      • Docetaxel (Taxotere)

      • Nab-paclitaxel (Abraxane)

      • Gemcitabine (Gemzar)

      • Etoposide (Toposar, VePesid)

      • Pemetrexed (Alimta)

      • Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)

      • Topotecan (Hycamtin)

      • Vinorelbine (Navelbine)

      • Irinotecan (Camptosar)

      For platinum-resistant cancer, most doctors recommend single and sequential use (1 drug after another) of these medications, but they are sometimes used in combination.

      Bevacizumab can be combined with liposomal doxorubicin, paclitaxel, or topotecan for platinum-resistant cancer. Doctors believe this is best used with patients who have received one or two treatments, have not previously received bevacizumab, and those do not have evidence of significant bowel involvement by a CT scan. By adding bevacizumab to the chemotherapy, the time to disease recurrence may be lengthened when compared to those patients receiving chemotherapy alone. You should discuss the risks and possible benefits of this approach with your doctor.

      Clinical trials are always reasonable to consider, if available. Talk with your doctor about available clinical trials open to you.

    Ovarian germ cell and stromal tumors

    For patients with ovarian germ cell tumors, the first treatment usually is surgery. In some cases, doctors can perform the surgery in a way that preserves fertility. Doctors generally recommend chemotherapy following surgery. The exception is stage IA dysgerminoma or stage I, grade 1 to 2 immature teratoma. Chemotherapy usually consists of a combination of intravenous (IV) bleomycin (Blenoxane), cisplatin (Platinol), and etoposide (Toposar, VePesid). The overall approach and medications given are similar to those used in male germ cell cancer, which is a type of testicular cancer. To learn more about this type of cancer, visit the Cancer.Net guides to testicular cancer and childhood germ cell tumors.    

    Stromal tumors are a rare form of ovarian cancer. They are found in the connective tissue that holds the ovaries together. For a stage I stromal tumor, treatment usually consists of surgery only. For high-risk, early stage tumors or stage III or stage IV disease, doctors often consider combination chemotherapy. You should discuss the risks and potential benefits with your doctor. For information about staging, visit the Staging section of this guide.

    Chemotherapy for a stromal tumor usually involves the combination of bleomycin (Blenoxane), cisplatin (Platinol) and etoposide (Toposar, VePesid). Chemotherapy can be used after surgery or for recurrent tumors. Researchers are looking at chemotherapy with carboplatin (Paraplatin) and paclitaxel (Taxol) as another alternative. For recurrent disease, doctors use the hormonal therapy leuprolide (Eligard, Lupron, Viadur). Clinical trials are evaluating the effectiveness of bevacizumab (Avastin) to block the growth of blood vessels. Studies are being done to test tumors molecularly to find other, more targeted drugs for this type of cancer. 

    Side effects of chemotherapy

    For ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer, the side effects of chemotherapy depend on the individual and the dose used. Side effects can include fatigue, risk of infection, nausea and vomiting, hair loss, loss of appetite, and diarrhea. These side effects usually go away after treatment is finished.

    Possible side effects of chemotherapy include difficulty with cognitive (brain) functions. For example, the patient may have issues with attention span or memory. Other possible side effects include stopping the ability to become pregnant and causing premature or early menopause. Rarely, certain drugs may cause some hearing loss or kidney damage. Patients may be given extra fluid intravenously for kidney protection. Before treatment begins, patients should talk with their health care team about possible short-term and long-term side effects of the specific drugs being given. It is important to note that many side effects can be reduced by adjusting the dose and/or schedule.  

    Learn more about the basics of chemotherapy and preparing for treatment. Researchers are continually evaluating the medications that treat cancer. Talking with your doctor is often the best way to learn about the medications prescribed for you, their purpose, and their potential side effects or interactions with other medications. Learn more about your prescriptions by using searchable drug databases. 

    Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy is not used as a first treatment for ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer. Occasionally, it can be an option for treating small, localized recurrent cancer. See the section below for more about treatment options for recurrent ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer.

    Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. A doctor who specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer is called a radiation oncologist. The most common type of radiation treatment is called external beam radiation therapy. This type of radiation is given from a machine outside the body. When radiation treatment is given using implants, it is called internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy. A radiation therapy regimen usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over a set period of time.

    Side effects from radiation therapy may include fatigue, mild skin reactions, upset stomach, and loose bowel movements. Most side effects go away soon after treatment is finished. Learn more about the basics of radiation therapy

    For more information on radiation therapy for gynecologic cancers, see the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's pamphlet, Radiation Therapy for Gynecologic Cancers (PDF).

    Getting care for symptoms and side effects

    Cancer and its treatment often cause side effects. In addition to treatment to slow, stop, or eliminate the cancer, an important part of cancer care is relieving a person’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care. Palliative care includes supporting the patient with her physical, emotional, and social needs.

    Palliative care is any treatment that focuses on reducing symptoms, improving quality of life, and supporting patients and their families. Any person, regardless of age or type and stage of cancer, may receive palliative care. Palliative care works best when it is started as early as needed in the cancer treatment process.

    People often receive treatment for the cancer and treatment to ease side effects at the same time. Patients who receive both, often have less severe symptoms and better quality of life, and report they are more satisfied with treatment.

    Palliative treatments vary widely and often include medication, nutritional changes, relaxation techniques, emotional support, and other therapies. You may receive palliative treatments similar to those meant to eliminate the cancer, such as chemotherapy or surgery. Talk with your doctor about the goals of each treatment in the treatment plan.

    Before treatment begins, talk with your health care team about the possible side effects of your specific treatment plan and palliative care options. During and after treatment, be sure to tell your doctor or another health care team member if you experience a problem so it can be addressed as quickly as possible. Learn more about palliative care

    Metastatic ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer

    If cancer spreads to another part in the body from where it started, doctors call it metastatic cancer. If this happens, it is a good idea to talk with doctors who have experience in treating it. Doctors can have different opinions about the best standard treatment plan. Clinical trials might be an option. Learn more about getting a second opinion before starting treatment, so you are comfortable with your chosen treatment plan.

    New treatments for these types of cancer include experimental combinations of chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy, also called biologic therapy. These combinations are designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer (see Latest Research). Because the benefits of these options remain unproven, their risks must be weighed against possible improvements in symptoms and survival. Palliative care will be important to help relieve symptoms and side effects.

    For most patients, a diagnosis of metastatic cancer is very stressful and, at times, difficult to bear. Patients and their families are encouraged to talk about the way they are feeling with doctors, nurses, social workers, or other members of the health care team. It may be helpful to talk with other patients, including through a support group.

    Remission and the chance of recurrence

    A remission is when cancer cannot be detected in the body and there are no symptoms. This may also be called having “no evidence of disease” or NED. 

    A remission may be temporary or permanent. This uncertainty causes many people to worry that the cancer will come back. It’s important to talk with your doctor about the possibility of the cancer returning. This is particularly important after treatment for ovarian, fallopian tube and peritoneal cancer, as many women experience at least one recurrence. Understanding your risk of recurrence and the treatment options may help you feel more prepared if the cancer does return. Learn more about coping with the fear of recurrence.

    If the cancer does return after the original treatment, it is called recurrent cancer. It may come back in the same place (called a local recurrence), nearby (regional recurrence), or in another place (distant recurrence).

    When this occurs, a new cycle of testing will begin to discover as much as possible about the recurrence. After testing is done, you and your doctor will talk about your treatment options. Often the treatment plan will include the treatments described above such as surgery and chemotherapy. However, they may be used in a different combination or given at a different pace. Radiation therapy may be used in some situations. Your doctor may suggest clinical trials that are studying new ways to treat your type of recurrent cancer. Whichever treatment plan you choose, palliative care will be important for relieving symptoms and side effects

    The symptoms of recurrent ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer are similar to those experienced when the disease was first diagnosed. The four most common symptoms are bloating; pelvic or abdominal pain; difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency). However, other symptoms may include persistent indigestion, gas, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation; unexplained weight loss or gain, especially in the abdominal area; abnormal bleeding from the vagina; pain during sexual intercourse; fatigue; and lower back pain.

    In addition to monitoring symptoms, doctors may be able to diagnose a recurrence by measuring the level of CA-125 in the blood in women whose levels were elevated prior to treatment. As outlined in Diagnosis, CA-125 is a cancer antigen, or a substance that is found in higher levels in women with ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer. In 95% of women, a rise in CA-125 indicates a recurrence. However, sometimes a recurrence can happen without an elevation of this marker depending on the tumor type.

    Whichever treatment plan you choose, palliative care will be important for relieving symptoms and side effects.

    People with recurrent cancer often experience emotions such as disbelief or fear. Patients are encouraged to talk with their health care team about these feelings and ask about support services to help them cope. Learn more about dealing with cancer recurrence.

    If treatment fails

    Recovery from ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer is not always possible. If the cancer cannot be cured or controlled, the disease may be called advanced or terminal.

    This diagnosis is stressful, and advanced cancer is difficult to discuss for many people. However, it is important to have open and honest conversations with your doctor and health care team to express your feelings, preferences, and concerns. The health care team is there to help. Many team members have special skills, experience, and knowledge to support patients and their families. Making sure a person is physically comfortable and free from pain is extremely important.

    Patients who have advanced cancer and who are expected to live less than 6 months may want to consider a type of palliative care called hospice care. Hospice care is designed to provide the best possible quality of life for people who are near the end of life. You and your family are encouraged to think about where you would be most comfortable: at home, in the hospital, or in a hospice environment. Nursing care and special equipment can make staying at home a workable alternative for many families. Learn more about advanced cancer care planning.

    After the death of a loved one, many people need support to help them cope with the loss. Learn more about grief and loss.

    The next section in this guide is About Clinical Trials. It offers more information about research studies that are focused on finding better ways to care for people with cancer. You may use the menu to choose a different section to continue reading in this guide.