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What Are the Different Types of Ovarian Cancer Drugs?

By Chris Carroll
Updated May 17, 2024
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Ovarian cancer drugs vary based on the type of cancer and manifestation in the patient. Drug therapy is part of an overall treatment plan and typically is a follow-up to surgery which removes localized cancer. The follow-up treatment focuses on cancer cells not removed through surgery and that may have spread. There are three categories of drug therapy: chemotherapy, hormonal, and targeted. Each form has different functions and ways of being administered.

Chemotherapy, also known as cytotoxic chemotherapy, relies on ovarian cancer drugs that attack and kill fast-growing cells. To attack these cells throughout the body, a systemic approach is required. This is achieved by administering drugs, such as paclitaxel, in a vein. A combination of chemotherapy drugs are often used to increase the odds of achieving better results for the patient; for example, cisplatin is often used in combination with paclitaxel. These drugs are used to treat epithelial cancer.

Another way to administer ovarian cancer drugs is directly into the abdomen. This method best delivers a concentrated dose near an ovarian tumor. This is known as intraperitoneal chemotherapy.

If surgery and chemotherapy do not adequately combat cancerous growth, oncologists may also begin hormonal and targeted therapies. Hormonal therapy drugs can slow the growth of stromal tumors by blocking the natural production of hormones in the body. The naturally produced hormones may be feeding the tumor, so stopping hormone production can often slow tumor growth.

Targeted therapy drugs are used with advanced ovarian cancer and include bevacizumab. Drugs of this type affect only malignant cells, while chemotherapy drugs attack any rapidly dividing cells. These drugs send signals that slow down cancer cell growth, make the cells more receptive to chemotherapy or contribute to cell death. Some targeted drugs still in development focus on the genetic weakness of a cancer in proscribing treatment; previously, the location of the cancer dictated treatment.

There are side effects associated with each of the ovarian cancer drugs. Chemotherapy aggressively attacks all cells without differentiating between those that are cancerous and non-cancerous; less desirable results include diminished immune systems and overall fatigue. Hormonal therapies, such as tamoxifen may directly contribute to blood clots and the occurrence of strokes. Targeted therapy side effects may include acne, diarrhea, and lung disease. Side effects are best assessed and responded to on a patient-by-patient basis.

The objective in treating women's cancers is to develop a tailored treatment plan for the individual. Many beneficial drug treatment therapies are available, and it is best for a patient to determine the best course of treatment with her doctor. Determining the best ovarian cancer drugs to treat a particular patient is often a combination of the cancer's stage, location, and the pros and cons of possible side effects.

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