Can Ovarian Cancer be Cured?
Last updated: July 2021
While advanced ovarian cancer cannot be cured, it can be treated. Roughly 80 percent of women with ovarian cancer will have advanced ovarian cancer at the time of diagnosis. About 75 percent of newly diagnosed women will have either stage 3 or 4 cancer. In 2021, roughly 21,410 women will get a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer. This means there is a large number of women living with advanced ovarian cancer.1-3
Advanced ovarian cancer is treated differently than early-stage ovarian cancer. In early-stage ovarian cancer, surgery to completely remove the tumor is usually done. There may or may not be any treatment after surgery, depending on the grade of the cancer. The focus is on curing the cancer since it is contained in the ovary.4
With advanced ovarian cancer, the focus shifts from cure to treatment. The goal of treatment is to remove as much cancer as possible and slow the progression of the disease to prolong your life. Your doctors will also focus on managing your symptoms and reducing side effects.
The main goal is to manage the cancer in a way that gives you the best quality of life possible.
Why is treatment different?
In advanced ovarian cancer, treatment often includes more than one type. After surgery, you might have chemotherapy. This helps control the spread of cancer and shrink existing tumors. In turn, this helps relieve symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Due to treatment breakthroughs and new drugs, advanced ovarian cancer is often seen as a chronic disease that is managed or controlled instead of cured. The cancer may remain stable and then come back with new tumors. After treatment, it may go back to being stable. On treatment breaks, the cancer may get worse, and then treatment helps manage it again. If your cancer becomes resistant to 1 drug over time, another one can be tried.4
About 80 percent of women with advanced ovarian cancer will either not respond to the first chemotherapy or their cancer will return after initially responding to treatment. Other treatments need to be explored, especially for women with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer. These options may include external-beam radiation, PARP inhibitors, or other drugs.5
During long-term treatment, some treatments may become too toxic to continue and another one must be used. Since the side effects of treatment can vary, the focus remains on managing your side effects and preserving quality of life.
Balancing benefits versus drawbacks
Treating advanced ovarian cancer can depend on many things. It is a balance of treating the disease along with other factors. These may include your personal choices, health risks, toxicity of treatment, finances, and things like overall health or age.
When deciding on any new treatments or putting together a treatment plan, talk with your doctor about the benefits versus drawbacks. This can include side effects and their severity, the expected survival benefit, and cost.
You may also be asked whether you want to participate in a clinical trial. This is a very personal choice, and you are under no pressure to agree. Talk with your doctor about all of the potential benefits and risks of participating.
Defining treatment goals
With advanced cancer, it is a good idea to talk honestly with your treatment team about the expectations of treatment and goals of the treatment plan. Each person’s treatment plan will look different based on your specific cancer, your personal expectations, and goals of treatment.
Questions you might want to ask include:
- How long can this treatment be given?
- What are the side effects?
- How are side effects treated?
- What are the benefits of this treatment?
- What comes next?
Together, you and your treatment team can put together a plan that works for you. Managing side effects and symptoms are important in maintaining a good quality of life.
Have you heard of platinum-resistant ovarian cancer?