Ovarian cancer: choosing treatment

Sometimes it is hard to decide which is the right treatment for you. You may feel that everything is happening too fast, that you don’t have time to think things through.

While some women feel they have too much information, others may feel that they don’t have enough. You need to make sure that you understand enough about your illness, the possible treatment and side effects to make your own decisions.

For some women with ovarian cancer, treatment will result in a cure. However, treatment often means that women can no longer have children. This may be a blow for many women, even if they already have a family. For other women who have not yet had children, it can be devastating. If fertility is really important for you, talk with your doctor about what other choices are available. This will depend on the type of ovarian cancer you have.

For women with advanced ovarian cancer, treatment may be aimed at controlling symptoms rather than curing the cancer. Sometimes, the best way to control the symptoms is to treat the cancer – which may carry a small chance of a cure. Some women in this situation want all possible treatments, while others want to make sure that the possible benefits of treatment will outweigh the possible side effects. Still others will choose the option they consider offers them the best quality of life.

Talking with doctors

If it is suspected that you have ovarian cancer, you may find that things move very rapidly. This makes it very hard for you to make your decisions. It is also very difficult to take everything in, and you may need to ask the same questions more than once. You may find it helpful to talk not only with your doctor(s), but also with the nurses who will be caring for you during your treatment. You have the right to find out what a suggested treatment means for you and the right to accept or refuse it.

Before you see the doctor, it may help to write down your questions. The cancer nurses on the Cancer Council Helpline can also help you tailor questions for your doctor to suit your individual needs. Call 13 11 20. Taking notes during the session can also help. Many people like to have a family member or friend go with them, to take part in the discussion, take notes, or simply listen. Some people find it is helpful to tape record the discussion, but ask your doctor first.

Talking with others

Once you have discussed your treatment options with your doctor, you may want to talk them over with your partner, family or friends, nurses, the hospital social worker, or your own spiritual or religious adviser. Talking it over can help to sort out what course of action is right for you. You may also like to speak to a woman who has been through a similar experience.

You may be interested in looking for information about ovarian cancer on the Internet. While there are some very good websites, you need to be aware that some websites provide wrong or biased information. We recommend that you begin with the Cancer Council’s site (see the link below).

A second opinion

You may want to ask for a second opinion from another gynaecological oncologist. This is okay and can help you make your decision. Your specialist or local doctor can refer you to another specialist and you can ask for copies of your results to be sent to the second-opinion doctor.

You can still ask for a second opinion even if you have already started treatment or still want to be treated by your first doctor.

Taking part in a clinical trial

Cancer Council Victoria supports participation in clinical trials. They are the most accurate way to determine the effectiveness of promising new treatments or new ways of combining cancer treatments. Always discuss treatment options with your doctor.

If your doctor suggests taking part in a clinical trial, make sure that you fully understand the reasons for the trial and what it means for you. Before deciding whether or not to join the trial, you may wish to ask your doctor:

  • What is the standard (best available) treatment for my cancer if I don’t go in the trial?
  • Which treatments are being tested and why?
  • Which tests are involved?
  • What are the possible risks or side effects?
  • How long will the trial last?
  • Will I need to go into hospital for treatment?
  • What will I do if any problems occur while I am in the trial?

If you decide to join a randomised clinical trial, you will have either the best existing treatment or a promising new treatment. You will be allocated at random to receive one treatment or the other. In clinical trials, people’s health and progress are carefully monitored.

If you do join a clinical trial, you have the right to withdraw at any time. Doing so will not affect your treatment for cancer.

It is always your decision to take part in a clinical trial. If you do not want to take part, your doctor will discuss the best current treatment choices with you.

Recovery and follow-up care

Recovering from treatment is different for each woman. It depends on the type and stage of ovarian cancer you have and also the amount of treatment you have needed.

You will need to have regular check-ups with your specialist. These may include blood tests and physical examinations. Talk with your doctor about how often these may be.

It may take some time for you to recover from the various types of treatment. You will find that there are physical changes as well as many emotional changes to cope with. It is important that you, your partner (if you have one) and family are prepared for this. You may also need to talk with your employer about how the treatment may affect your work. If you would like some help to prepare for this task, speak to a cancer nurse on the Cancer Council Helpline.

Last Reviewed: 1 July 2010
Reproduced with kind permission from the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria.

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Cancer Council Victoria

Cancer Council Victoria

Cancer Council Victoria is a non-profit cancer charity organisation involved in cancer research, patient support, cancer prevention and advocacy.