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14 FAQs About Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer

1. What are the goals of treatment?

Chemotherapy is usually recommended after surgery for most stages of ovarian cancer. A combination of chemotherapy medications is typically used. The primary goal of chemotherapy is to destroy cancer cells by preventing them from growing and dividing rapidly and to bring about cancer remission.

2. Who provides treatment?

An oncologist, or cancer doctor, oversees and prescribes the treatment.  A nurse may administer the chemotherapy medications into a vein (intravenous (IV). People with advanced ovarian cancer may have intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, where medications are injected through a catheter or port in your abdomen.

3. Does it matter where I receive chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy is usually administered in a doctor's office, clinic, or outpatient unit at a hospital. Chemotherapy follows a standard protocol, so your care should not vary greatly from place to place. You may decide to travel to an academic hospital, especially if you are interested in participating in clinical trials.

4. What do I need to know about clinical trials?

Clinical trials are designed to find better ways to treat cancer. In order to participate in a clinical trial or research study, you must meet certain requirements. For example, some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment. Talk to your oncologist about your eligibility.

5. How often is chemotherapy done?

The number of treatment cycles, or doses, you have will depend on the stage of your disease. A cycle is a schedule that allows regular doses of a drug, followed by a rest period. For example, if you have advanced ovarian cancer, you may get a course of chemotherapy every three weeks for six doses. Different drugs have varying cycles; your oncologist will prescribe the particular cycle or schedule for your chemotherapy.

6. How long does it take?

The chemotherapy itself may take five to six hours, depending on the drug combination. That does not include the time required to perform blood tests and a physical exam that are often necessary prior to receiving chemotherapy. 

7. Can I take myself to treatment?

Generally, you should arrange for someone to pick you up after the first cycle of chemotherapy, because some of the pre-medications for chemotherapy may cause drowsiness.

8. Can I work during treatments?

It depends. Some people benefit from keeping to a regular work schedule with flexibility if they don't feel well. Some schedule chemotherapy for Fridays so that they have time over the weekend to recover. Others may want to take medical leave from work. Talk to your oncologist about your concerns.

9. What are the side effects of chemotherapy?

The severity of side effects varies greatly from person to person. Common temporary side effects include hair loss, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. You may also be at increased risk for bruising, bleeding, infection, and anemia. Permanent side effects include premature menopause, infertility, and numbness in the fingers and toes.

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