As with any kind of medical treatment, there are possible pros and cons in the use of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. The primary advantage of chemotherapy is its potential for effectively treating cancer when used alone or in conjunction with other types of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy might reduce or eliminate a tumor, lengthen life expectancy or improve quality of life. The main disadvantage of chemotherapy is the likelihood of physiological side effects, such as hair loss or nerve damage. The use of chemotherapy versus alternative treatments can be based on an individual's overall state of health, the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed and other factors.
Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer can be used as a standalone treatment but is sometimes considered to complement other forms of treatment. As adjuvant therapy, chemotherapy can be employed after the surgical removal of a tumor as a means of attacking potentially hidden cancer cells. The use of chemotherapy as neoadjuvant therapy might be prescribed to reduce the size of a tumor before surgery or radiation. Palliative chemotherapy is the use of cancer-killing drugs to relieve cancer symptoms and maintain quality of life.
Ovarian cancer can sometimes be treated with intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy, which is the administration of chemotherapy agents via the abdomen to target a localized tumor. IP chemotherapy might offer a greater rate of effectiveness for ovarian cancer than intravenous (IV) chemotherapy. Abdominal pain is a common side effect of IP chemotherapy, but pain medications can be given to counteract this effect.
Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer can have side effects ranging from mild to serious. Chemotherapy agents are designed to kill rapidly growing cancer cells, but these drugs also negatively affect some types of healthy cells, such as hair follicles, bone marrow and digestive tract cells. Thus, chemotherapy side effects might include loss of hair from the scalp, face and body. The loss of white blood cells can lead to increased chances of infection. Damaged cells in the digestive tract might be associated with side effects such as mouth sores, diarrhea or frequent urination, as well as mild to severe nausea.
Some individuals in chemotherapy treatment could experience mild symptoms that affect daily functioning or quality of life. "Chemo brain" is the informal name for memory problems and/or cognitive difficulties that sometimes result from the use of chemotherapy. Many cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy feel moderately fatigued, which can affect day-to-day routines. A metallic taste in the mouth, sensitivity to odors and unusual aversions to specific foods are other potential effects that can affect quality of life.
Two serious complications that can potentially arise from the use of chemotherapy are weakness of the heart muscle, or cardiomyopathy, and nerve damage in the fingers and toes, or neuropathy. These side effects could be temporary or permanent. Potentially, the use of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer could increase the likelihood of other cancers occurring later in life.