14 FAQs About Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on October 09, 2019

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?

Side effects like tingling or numbness in the hands and feet may be permanent, because some of the drugs used to treat ovarian cancer may cause nerve damage. Therefore, it is important to let your oncologist know right away if you are experiencing these symptoms.

10. How quickly do side effects occur?

It varies. Not everyone experiences the same side effects, nor do they occur at the same time. Some individuals may experience side effects after one cycle; sometimes, it takes more than one or two cycles. Side effects may get worse as the cycles progress.

11. What can I do to ease chemotherapy side effects?

Your oncologist may prescribe medications to prevent side effects like nausea and vomiting. Talk to your oncologist about your options. Oncology social workers and oncology nurses can also help you manage fatigue. Patient guides, such as the American Cancer Society's "Managing Side Effects," can also give practical tips for dealing with chemotherapy-related side effects.

12. Will they go away?

Yes, temporary side effects like nausea, vomiting, hair loss, and fatigue usually go away following the completion of treatment.

14. What kind of follow-up care do I need?

Your oncologist will monitor your progress at each chemotherapy appointment. After the successful completion of chemotherapy, you usually will see your oncologist every 2-4 months for the first two years, every 3-6 months for the next three years, and then once a year after that. However, your follow-up schedule will largely be determined by your cancer and how you responded to treatment.

WebMD Medical Reference



Deborah Armstrong, MD, associate professor of oncology, Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins; associate professor of gynecology and obstetrics, Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

Diane Bodurka, MD, professor of gynecologic oncology, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Enrique Hernandez, MD, professor and chair, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa.

Carolyn Runowicz, MD, associate dean of Women's Affairs, professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Florida International University.

Silber, J. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2006.

American Cancer Society: "Detailed Guide: Ovarian Cancer Chemotherapy" and "Managing Side Effects."

National Cancer Institute: "Ovarian Epithelial Cancer Treatment, Treatment Option Overview, Patient Version" and "Questions and Answers About Chemotherapy."

CancerCare: "Understanding and Managing Chemotherapy Side Effects."

Barnhill, D. Gynecologic Oncology, September 1992.

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