Most girls and young women can be cured of germ cell tumours of the ovary.
Your treatment will depend on the type of germ cell tumour you have and whether it has spread outside the ovaries. Treatment is usually a combination of surgery and chemotherapy, although you may only need surgery.
Before you have treatment, your specialist needs to know the type of germ cell tumour you have and what stage it is. The stage of a cancer describes the size of the tumour and whether it has spread outside the ovary to any other parts of your body.
Your specialist will tell you the exact stage of the cancer after the operation to remove your ovary. Most germ cell tumours are diagnosed early when they’re in one or sometimes both ovaries but haven’t spread anywhere else in the body. Waiting to hear about the stage of the cancer can be worrying. But this information is important because it helps your doctors plan the right treatment.
Another important part of ovarian cancer treatment is to try to make sure it doesn’t make you infertile (unable to get pregnant). Your doctors will think very carefully about this when planning your treatment.
You may have an operation to remove the affected ovary and the fallopian tube. If it’s a very early germ cell tumour this might be the only treatment you need. After your operation you’ll come back to the clinic for regular checks. If there are any signs of the cancer coming back, it’s treated straight away.
Having the affected ovary and fallopian tube removed won’t stop you from having a baby in the future. You can still get pregnant with only 1 ovary.
Before surgery you’ll have a general anaesthetic. During the operation, the surgeon will make a cut in the lower tummy. The ovary is removed through this cut. The operation is called a laparotomy.
If the cancer has spread, the surgeon may still do an operation to try to remove as much of the tumour as they can. If possible they will try to leave the other ovary and the womb. You will have more treatment after your operation to treat any of the tumour that they could not remove.
Removing both ovaries and the womb is only done if there’s no other way of successfully treating the cancer. Unfortunately this means you will not be able to get pregnant in the future. This can be very upsetting news. You may not have thought about having children yet, so it may be difficult to take in. If this happens there will be lots of support to help you.
Chemotherapy is given after your operation to:
- get rid of any cancer cells that weren’t removed with surgery
- stop the cancer from coming back
Your specialist will explain more about this to you. Germ cell tumours are very sensitive to chemotherapy and this treatment cures most girls. If it’s a very early germ cell tumour you might not even need chemotherapy.
Germ cell tumours are often treated with the drugs bleomycin, etoposide and cisplatin. When these are given together it’s called BEP for short.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles of treatment that usually take 3 weeks. You’ll have 3 to 4 cycles. You’ll spend the first 3 to 5 days of each cycle having your chemotherapy. You’ll usually stay in hospital for those days. You’ll come back to the clinic for another injection of chemotherapy a week later, and then again the following week.
Different chemotherapy drugs cause different side effects. Some girls just have a few side effects, and others have more.
Most side effects are temporary and gradually disappear once treatment stops. The most common side effects are:
- hair loss
- feeling sick or being sick (this can often be controlled with medicine)
- being more at risk of getting an infection
Doctors can’t be certain whether you’ll be able to get pregnant (fertility) in the future after you’ve had chemotherapy. They may talk to you about storing your eggs before chemotherapy starts. Stored eggs can be used with fertility treatments when you’re ready to try to get pregnant. Read more in Macmillan's section on fertility in young women.
Surgery and chemotherapy
You'll usually have chemotherapy after your surgery. You might have more surgery after you’ve finished chemotherapy if there’s still some tumour left behind.
Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high-energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Some types of germ cell tumour are sensitive to radiotherapy, but it is rarely used.
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If you're looking for information about ovarian cancer in women of all ages, read our general ovarian cancer information.