Chemotherapy uses cytotoxic drugs to destroy cancer. "Cytotoxic" means toxic for the cells. These drugs do not only alter the way in which cancer cells grow and divide, but they may also affect normal cells.

Most drugs are injected into a vein (intravenously) through:

  • A fine, thin tube inserted into one of the veins in your hand or arm.
  • A PICC line: a thin plastic tube placed in a vein on the interior part of your arm.
  • A central line: a plastic tube placed in a vein in your chest.
  • Chemotherapy is usually given over several treatment sessions.

Each treatment is followed by a period of rest lasting a few weeks, thus allowing the body to recover from the side effects. Together, the treatment and rest period make up one treatment cycle. The number of cycles you will have will depend on the drugs being used and how well the treatment is working.
Most people can have their chemotherapy on an outpatient basis.

Chemotherapy for ovarian cancer can be given:

  • After surgery to lower the chances of the cancer returning (adjuvant chemotherapy). It is normally given every 3 weeks and usually lasts for 4–5 months.
  • So that the operation can be more satisfactory, before surgery 3 cycles of chemotherapy will be given, and 3 will be given after. The effectiveness of the treatment is assessed using a scan, and if your doctor thinks surgery isn't appropriate (after 3 cycles of chemo) you will be given another 6 complete cycles of chemotherapy.
  • To relieve the symptoms caused by cancer (in case the cancer has spread into the liver or lung).

The most commonly cytotoxic drugs given to treat ovarian cancer are liposomal doxorubicin, carboplatin, docetaxel, gemcitabine, topotecan, and etoposide.