Ovarian Cancer: Seven Terms You Should Know

A diagnosis of ovarian cancer can raise a lot of questions. It can also raise many new medical terms, which your doctor or a member of your care team can explain. Here are a few terms to know.

1. Ovarian epithelial cancer

Most forms of ovarian cancer begin in the tissue cells covering the ovaries (ovarian epithelial cancer) or in malignant germ cell tumors that begin in the ovary’s germ cells (ovarian germ cell tumor).

There are several stages of ovarian cancer, each of which represent how far the cancer has spread.

2. Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy is a form of radiation treatment in which radioactive material is sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters and placed directly into or near a tumor. Different types of brachytherapy include tandem and ovoid brachytherapy, cylinder brachytherapy, and interstitial brachytherapy. New techniques in the procedure are also being developed, including three-dimensional image-guided brachytherapy.

Brachytherapy is also known as implant radiation therapy, internal radiation therapy, and radiation brachytherapy.

Watch a detailed explanation of the brachytherapy process.


3. Oophorectomy

Many ovarian cancer patients undergo surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible. An oophorectomy — the surgical removal of one or both ovaries — is one of those surgical options.

A unilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is the removal of one ovary and fallopian tube; a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is the removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes.

4. Hysterectomy

Some patients may undergo a hysterectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the uterus and sometimes, the cervix. A total hysterectomy is the removal of both the uterus and the cervix while a partial hysterectomy only removes the uterus. In a radical hysterectomy, the uterus, cervix, both ovaries, both fallopian tubes, and nearby tissue are all removed.

Physicians are also exploring new technology for these surgeries, such as robot-assisted hysterectomies.

5. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy (IP)

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy is a type of regional chemotherapy where a thin tube carries the anticancer drugs directly into the peritoneal cavity (the space that contains the abdominal organs, including the ovaries).

6. Hormone-sensitive cancer

Ovarian cancer is a hormone-sensitive cancer, meaning that hormones can help fuel the cancer’s growth. Patients with ovarian cancer should avoid highly-concentrated soy foods and flaxseeds, which can have an estrogen-like effect in the body.

The best foods for a cancer diet include fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. For more healthy food ideas, visit Dana-Farber’s nutrition site, the recipe page or download the Ask the Nutritionist: Recipes for Fighting Cancer iPhone app.

7. Metastasis

Metastasis refers to the spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. During metastasis, cancer cells break away from the original tumor and may form another tumor elsewhere in the body.

For more help on cancer terminology visit Dana-Farber’s Medical Glossary or Dana-Farber’s Ovarian Cancer resource page. Learn more about ovarian cancer care and research at Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers.

4 thoughts on “Ovarian Cancer: Seven Terms You Should Know”

  1. Good post. My wife’s diagnosis has led me to an avalanche of new learning, but brachytherapy has never come up in any of my reading or any conversation with any of the doctors we’ve met. Maybe it’s not part of the treatment protocol up here in Canada, or perhaps it’s used in specific cancers other than the one she has.

  2. Confusingly, point 1. is most probably NOT the case. Most epithelial ovarian malignancies do arise from the Fallopian tube.

    • Hello, Sherry.
      Sorry to learn of your ovarian cancer diagnosis. First, you might get the facts on ovarian cancer, and set up an appointment with an oncologist, if you have not done so already. If you live near a comprehensive cancer center such as Dana-Farber, you can seek care from a doctor who specializes in ovarian cancer. Or you can seek a second opinion from an expert.

      In addition, you might benefit from an online community of others in your shoes. In this community you can share experiences and learn from one another.

      Very best wishes to you for the journey ahead.

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