Ovarian cancer medications are drugs prescribed to treat cancers of the ovaries. Surgery is usually the initial treatment for ovarian cancer, to remove as much of the cancer as safely possible and to stage the cancer. Medications are systemic treatments used in all stages to treat ovarian cancer, relieve symptoms, and reduce the risk of recurrence.
Types of medications used to treat ovarian cancer include the following:
Chemotherapy medications attack cancer cells and are used in the treatment of all stages of ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy is typically administered orally or by intravenous (IV) injections, and in advanced stages, it may be injected through a thin tube (catheter) directly into the abdominal cavity.
A combination of two or more chemotherapy drugs are usually used in ovarian cancer treatment. Antiemetics are usually prescribed with chemotherapy to prevent its side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Some common chemotherapy drugs include cisplatin, carboplatin, paclitaxel, and docetaxel.
Targeted therapy medications are generally used to treat advanced or recurring cancer, and as maintenance therapy to prolong the period of remission after chemotherapy treatment. Targeted therapies specifically target cancer cells and alter the way they function to halt or slow down the progress of the cancer.
Each targeted therapy medication is unique, identifying and altering a specific abnormal mechanism in the cancer cell that is caused by genetic mutations. Targeted therapies used to treat ovarian cancer include olaparib, rucaparib, niraparib, and bevacizumab.
Hormone therapy is the use of hormones or hormone-blocking drugs to slow down cancer growth. Hormone therapy is usually used only in the treatment of certain rare types of cancers such as ovarian stromal cancers. Tamoxifen, letrozole, and exemestane are some examples.
How does chemotherapy work?
Chemotherapy medications attack any cells that are in the phase of growth and division, and are particularly lethal to cancer cells because they are always in the process of growing and dividing. Chemotherapy medications are used singly or in different combinations to treat all types of ovarian cancers. Chemotherapy is useful for:
- Treating ovarian cancers that have spread (metastasized)
- Shrinking large tumors before surgery
- Killing any remaining cancer cells after surgery
Chemotherapy usually involves 3-6 cycles, interspersed with periods of rest to recover from side effects. Some of the chemotherapy medications used to treat ovarian cancer are FDA-approved and some are used off-label because of established clinical efficacy.
Chemotherapy medications commonly used to treat ovarian cancer include:
- Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan)
- Doxorubicin hydrochloride liposome (Doxil)
- Topotecan hydrochloride (Hycamtin)
- Gemcitabine hydrochloride (Gemzar, Infugem)
- Melphalan hydrochloride (Alkeran)
- Thiotepa (Tepadina)
FDA-approved combination drugs
- Bleomycin/etoposide phosphate/cisplatin (BEP)
- Carboplatin/etoposide phosphate/bleomycin (JEB)
- Vincristine sulfate/dactinomycin/cyclophosphamide (VAC)
- Vinblastine sulfate/ifosfamide/cisplatin (VeIP)
How does targeted therapy work?
Targeted therapy medications are either tiny synthetic protein molecules known as small molecule drugs, or lab-produced human antibodies known as monoclonal antibodies. Small molecule drugs get right inside the cancer cell and alter their function, while monoclonal antibodies bind to protein molecules on the cell surface and alter cell function.
Targeted therapy medications include:
- Angiogenesis inhibitors: Angiogenesis inhibitors are monoclonal antibodies that starve the cancer cells of blood supply by inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). Angiogenesis inhibitors inhibit the activity of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that stimulates angiogenesis. The angiogenesis inhibitor used to treat ovarian cancer is:
- Bevacizumab (Avastin)
- PARP inhibitors: PARP inhibitors are used as maintenance therapy for ovarian cancer in women who have BRCA gene mutations and for women who have advanced ovarian cancer with no BRCA mutations. Poly ADP ribose polymerase (PARP) is an enzyme that helps DNA repair. PARP inhibitors block PARP activity, prevent DNA repair, and cause cancer cell death. PARP inhibitors used in ovarian cancers include:
- Olaparib (Lynparza)
- Rucaparib camsylate (Rubraca)
- Niraparib tosylate monohydrate (Zejula)
- Tyrosine kinase inhibitors: Tyrosine kinase inhibitors are used to treat ovarian cancers in which cancer growth is promoted by mutations in neurotrophic tyrosine receptor kinase (NTRK) gene. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors inhibit the activity of proteins encoded by the mutated NTRK gene. Tyrosine kinase inhibitors used in ovarian cancers include:
- Larotrectinib sulfate (Vitrakvi)
- Entrectinib (Rozlytrek)
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How does hormone therapy work?
Hormone therapy is usually used to treat ovarian stromal tumors, which is a type of ovarian cancer. The cancer cells in ovarian stromal tumors often produce estrogen, so growth of these tumors can be inhibited by anti-estrogen medications.
Types of hormone therapy medications
- Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) agonists: LHRH agonists block the signals that stimulate the ovaries to produce estrogen. These medications are used in pre-menopausal women to lower estrogen levels and arrest cancer growth. LHRH agonists include:
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs): SERMs block estrogen receptors on the cancer cells and prevent estrogen from attaching to them and promoting their growth. The SERM medication commonly used to treat ovarian stromal cancer is:
- Tamoxifen citrate
- Aromatase inhibitors: Aromatase inhibitors block the activity of aromatase, an enzyme found in fat cells and which produces estrogen. Aromatase inhibitors are used to treat post-menopausal women with recurring ovarian stromal cancer. Aromatase inhibitors include:
Other ovarian cancer medications are used to counter the side effects of chemotherapy, which include:
- Antiemetics: Antiemetic medications used to prevent chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting include:
- Cytoprotective agents: Cytoprotective agents detoxify metabolites of chemotherapy medications ifosfamide and cyclophosphamide, and reduce the risk of bleeding from the bladder (hemorrhagic cystitis). The cytoprotective agent used for ovarian cancer is:
- Mesna (Mesnex)
- Please visit our medication section of each drug within its class for more detailed information.
- If your prescription medication isn’t on this list, remember to look on MedicineNet.com drug information or discuss with your healthcare provider and pharmacist.
- It is important to discuss all the drugs you take with your doctor and understand their effects, possible side effects and interaction with each other.
- Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting with your doctor.
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