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Home > Health Library > Ovarian Epithelial, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI]
This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http://cancer.gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.
Ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and primary peritoneal cancer are diseases in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissue covering the ovary or lining the fallopian tube or peritoneum.
The ovaries are a pair of organs in the female reproductive system. They are in the pelvis, one on each side of the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows). Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries make eggs and female hormones (chemicals that control the way certain cells or organs work).
The fallopian tubes are a pair of long, slender tubes, one on each side of the uterus. Eggs pass from the ovaries, through the fallopian tubes, to the uterus. Cancer sometimes begins at the end of the fallopian tube near the ovary and spreads to the ovary.
The peritoneum is the tissue that lines the abdominal wall and covers organs in the abdomen. Primary peritoneal cancer is cancer that forms in the peritoneum and has not spread there from another part of the body. Cancer sometimes begins in the peritoneum and spreads to the ovary. Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.
Ovarian epithelial cancer is one type of cancer that affects the ovary. See the following PDQ treatment summaries for information about other types of ovarian tumors:
Ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and primary peritoneal cancer form in the same type of tissue and are treated the same way.
Women who have a family history of ovarian cancer are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk for ovarian cancer.
Risk factors for ovarian cancer include the following:
Older age is the main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.
Some ovarian, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations (changes).
The genes in cells carry the hereditary information that is received from a person's parents. Hereditary ovarian cancer makes up about 20% of all cases of ovarian cancer. There are three hereditary patterns: ovarian cancer alone, ovarian and breast cancers, and ovarian and colon cancers.
Fallopian tube cancer and peritoneal cancer may also be caused by certain inherited gene mutations.
There are tests that can detect gene mutations. These genetic tests are sometimes done for members of families with a high risk of cancer. See the following PDQ summaries for more information:
Women with an increased risk of ovarian cancer may consider surgery to lessen the risk.
Some women who have an increased risk of ovarian cancer may choose to have a risk-reducing oophorectomy (the removal of healthy ovaries so that cancer cannot grow in them). In high-risk women, this procedure has been shown to greatly decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. (See the PDQ summary on Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Prevention for more information.)
Signs and symptoms of ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer include pain or swelling in the abdomen.
Ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer may not cause early signs or symptoms. When signs or symptoms do appear, the cancer is often advanced. Signs and symptoms may include the following:
These signs and symptoms also may be caused by other conditions and not by ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer. If the signs or symptoms get worse or do not go away on their own, check with your doctor so that any problem can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
Tests that examine the ovaries and pelvic area are used to diagnose and stage ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used to diagnose and stage ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer:
Certain factors affect treatment options and prognosis (chance of recovery).
The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:
After ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the ovaries or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out whether cancer has spread within the organ or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The results of the tests used to diagnose cancer are often also used to stage the disease. (See the General Information section for tests and procedures used to diagnose and stage ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancer.)
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if ovarian epithelial cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually ovarian epithelial cancer cells. The disease is metastatic ovarian epithelial cancer, not lung cancer.
The following stages are used for ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer:
In stage I, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes. Stage I is divided into stage IA, stage IB, and stage IC.
In stage II, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes and has spread into other areas of the pelvis, or primary peritoneal cancer is found within the pelvis. Stage II ovarian epithelial and fallopian tube cancers are divided into stage IIA and stage IIB.
Tumor sizes are often measured in centimeters (cm) or inches. Common food items that can be used to show tumor size in cm include: a pea (1 cm), a peanut (2 cm), a grape (3 cm), a walnut (4 cm), a lime (5 cm or 2 inches), an egg (6 cm), a peach (7 cm), and a grapefruit (10 cm or 4 inches).
In stage III, cancer is found in one or both ovaries or fallopian tubes, or is primary peritoneal cancer, and has spread outside the pelvis to other parts of the abdomen and/or to nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is divided into stage IIIA, stage IIIB, and stage IIIC.
In stage IV, cancer has spread beyond the abdomen to other parts of the body. Stage IV is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB.
Ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers are grouped for treatment as early or advanced cancer.
Stage I ovarian epithelial and fallopian tube cancers are treated as early cancers.
Stages II, III, and IV ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers are treated as advanced cancers.
Ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancers can recur (come back) after treatment.
The cancer may come back in the same place or in other parts of the body. Persistent cancer is cancer that does not go away with treatment.
There are different types of treatment for patients with ovarian epithelial cancer.
Different types of treatment are available for patients with ovarian epithelial cancer. Some treatments are standard, and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the treatment currently used as standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients with any stage of ovarian cancer may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Three kinds of standard treatment are used.
Most patients have surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Different types of surgery may include:
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).
A type of regional chemotherapy used to treat ovarian cancer is intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy. In IP chemotherapy, the anticancer drugs are carried directly into the peritoneal cavity (the space that contains the abdominal organs) through a thin tube.
Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is a treatment used during surgery that is being studied for ovarian cancer. After the surgeon has removed as much tumor tissue as possible, warmed chemotherapy is sent directly into the peritoneal cavity.
Treatment with more than one anticancer drug is called combination chemotherapy.
The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
See Drugs Approved for Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, or Primary Peritoneal Cancer for more information.
Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific cancer cells. Targeted therapies usually cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapy do.
Monoclonal antibodies are immune system proteins made in the laboratory to treat many diseases, including cancer. As a cancer treatment, these antibodies can attach to a specific target on cancer cells or other cells that may help cancer cells grow. The antibodies are able to then kill the cancer cells, block their growth, or keep them from spreading. Monoclonal antibodies are given by infusion. They may be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins, or radioactive material directly to cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies may be used in combination with chemotherapy as adjuvant therapy.
Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody and angiogenesis inhibitor that may be used with chemotherapy to treat ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer that has recurred (come back). It binds to a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and may prevent the growth of new blood vessels that tumors need to grow. Other angiogenesis inhibitors are being studied in the treatment of advanced or recurrent ovarian cancer.
Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitors (PARP inhibitors) are targeted therapy drugs that block DNA repair and may cause cancer cells to die. Olaparib, rucaparib, and niraparib are PARP inhibitors that may be used to treat advanced ovarian cancer. Olaparib and rucaparib may also be used as maintenance therapy to treat ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer that has recurred. Veliparib is a PARP inhibitor that is being studied to treat advanced ovarian cancer.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
This summary section describes treatments that are being studied in clinical trials. It may not mention every new treatment being studied. Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Some women receive a treatment called intraperitoneal radiation therapy, in which radioactive liquid is put directly in the abdomen through a catheter. Intraperitoneal radiation therapy is being studied to treat advanced ovarian cancer.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer. This cancer treatment is a type of biologic therapy.
Vaccine therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a substance or group of substances to stimulate the immune system to find the tumor and kill it. Vaccine therapy is being studied to treat advanced ovarian cancer.
Treatment for ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer may cause side effects.
For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about clinical trials supported by NCI can be found on NCI's clinical trials search webpage. Clinical trials supported by other organizations can be found on the ClinicalTrials.gov website.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of early ovarian epithelial cancer or fallopian tube cancer may include the following:
Use our clinical trial search to find NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are accepting patients. You can search for trials based on the type of cancer, the age of the patient, and where the trials are being done. General information about clinical trials is also available.
Treatment of advanced ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer may include the following:
Treatment of recurrent ovarian epithelial cancer, fallopian tube cancer, or primary peritoneal cancer may include the following:
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer, see the following:
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
PDQ is a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the federal government's center of biomedical research. The PDQ summaries are based on an independent review of the medical literature. They are not policy statements of the NCI or the NIH.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of ovarian epithelial, fallopian tube, and primary peritoneal cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
Reviewers and Updates
Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Updated") is the date of the most recent change.
The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board.
Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials can be found online at NCI's website. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service (CIS), NCI's contact center, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Ovarian Epithelial, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/ovarian/patient/ovarian-epithelial-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389163]
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Last Revised: 2021-01-08
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