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Ovarian cancer prevention and treatment

Ovarian cancer prevention and treatment is not simple. It depends on the type of ovarian cancer and how far it has spread.

Ovarian cancer prevention

  • You may be able to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer through certain lifestyle changes such as stopping smoking and eating a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Making sure you get enough vitamin D can reduce your risk of developing a number of cancers, including ovarian cancer. Vitamin D is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight and can also be obtained from some foods, such as oily fish. However, most people don’t get enough from these sources. This is especially true if you live in a region that is nearer the North or South Pole than the equator (for example the UK, Canada or southern Argentina), where the sunlight to make vitamin D is only strong enough during the summer.
  • You can reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer by taking 35 to 50 micrograms of vitamin D a day (about three to four high-strength, 12.5-microgram tablets). This will also reduce your risk of developing various bone-related conditions such as osteoporosis and osteomalacia. Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your supplements and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, ask your pharmacist or GP for advice first. Talk to your GP before taking vitamin D supplements if you are taking diuretics for high blood pressure or have a history of kidney stones or kidney failure.

Ovarian cancer treatment

Ovarian cancer prevention and treatment

Almost all women with ovarian cancer will need surgery for the best chance of successful treatment. The extent of surgery depends on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. If it hasn’t spread beyond the ovary, it may be possible to remove only the single affected ovary and Fallopian tube.

If the cancer has already spread beyond the ovary, both ovaries and your womb, together with nearby lymph nodes and any surrounding tissues that the cancer may have spread to, need to be removed. This is called a total hysterectomy and oophorectomy.

Other types of surgery for more advanced ovarian cancer are used to remove, or ‘debulk’ as much of the tumor as possible.

Chemotherapy uses medicines to destroy cancer cells and can cause side-effects, including tiredness and feeling sick or vomiting. Your chemotherapy treatment will vary depending on the type of ovarian cancer you have. Chemotherapy is usually used to shrink ovarian tumors. However, if you have the rarer type of germ cell ovarian cancer, chemotherapy can sometimes cure the disease.

After surgery, most women with ovarian cancer will be offered chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells that were not removed by surgery or if there is a risk the cancer may return. Women with very early stage ovarian cancer don’t usually need chemotherapy.

If ovarian cancer comes back (relapses), you may be treated with the same chemotherapy medicine or an alternative, depending on the timing of the relapse and whether the cancer has developed resistance to previous chemotherapy medicines.

Your doctor may give you information on clinical trials that are being run to test new treatments for ovarian cancer.

Radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. However, it’s not often used to treat ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer – Help and support

Being diagnosed with cancer can be distressing for you and your family. An important part of cancer treatment is having support to deal with the emotional aspects as well as the physical symptoms. Specialist cancer doctors and nurses are experts in providing the support you need, and may also visit you at home. If you have more advanced cancer, further support is available to you in hospices or at home – this is called palliative care.

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