Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer

To destroy any tumor cells that might be left behind after surgery for ovarian cancer, many women receive one form or another of chemotherapy, which works by interrupting the growth of cancer cells.

There are several ways to receive chemotherapy medicines for ovarian, fallopian tube, or peritoneal cancer:

  • by mouth (oral chemotherapy)
  • by  injection into a vein
  • as  intraperitoneal chemotherapy placed directly into the lining of the abdominal area (the peritoneum) following surgery

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we tailor the type of chemotherapy we recommend to each woman based on such factors as the type and stage of her cancer. We also make adjustments along the way as we assess whether the tumor is responding.  Today we also have options that include targeted drugs, which are often effective in identifying and attacking cancer cells while basically sparing normal cells.

Proven Effective: Intraperitoneal (IP) Chemotherapy

With intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, medical oncologists can give women a high concentration of chemotherapy drugs ensured to reach cancerous tissue for a prolonged period of time. Since MSK oncologists pioneered this approach for women with ovarian cancer in the 1980s, it’s been shown to significantly extend women’s lives .

Illustration of chemotherapy being delivered to intraperitoneal space of human.
Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy: A Better but Underused Option for Women with Advanced Ovarian Cancer
Gynecologic surgeon Dennis Chi explains how IP chemotherapy works – and why at MSK it’s part of the standard of care for women with stage 3 disease.
Learn more

To administer IP chemotherapy, we deliver chemotherapy drugs directly into the internal lining of the abdominal area (the peritoneal cavity) through a flexible tube (a catheter). The catheter has many small holes out of which the chemotherapeutic agents flow. The catheter is placed at the end of a successful operation where debulking (cytoreduction) has been performed to remove as much tumor tissue as possible.

MSK continues to be one of the most experienced cancer centers offering this approach. 

Targeted Therapies for Ovarian Cancer

While each type of targeted therapy works differently, all attack the inner workings of cancer cells – the so-called programming that makes them different from normal, healthy cells.

Targeted therapies for ovarian cancer include:

  • Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitors, which are enzymes that function as key regulators of cell survival and cell death. Drugs that inhibit PARP-1 help fight cancers caused by mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2. In December 2014, the PARP inhibitor Alaparib was approved for women with BRCA mutations who have experienced a recurrence of ovarian cancer.
  • Bevacizumab (Avastin), a targeted therapy that has been studied frequently in ovarian cancer, and targets the blood vessels that supply the tumor and aid in growth.

Pazopanib (Votrient®), a targeted therapy drug that helps stop new blood vessels from forming. It has shown some promise in studies.