When cancer returns after a period of remission, it is considered a recurrence.

A cancer recurrence happens because some cancer cells were left behind and eventually grow and become apparent. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original tumor or to another place in the body. Around 70 percent of patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have a recurrence. One of the factors in determining a patient’s risk of recurrence is the stage of the cancer at diagnosis:

  • Patients diagnosed in stage I have a 10 percent chance of recurrence.
  • Patients diagnosed in stage II have a 30 percent chance of recurrence.
  • Patients diagnosed in stage III have a 70 to 90 percent chance of recurrence.
  • Patients diagnosed in stage IV have a 90 to 95 percent chance of recurrence.

Recurrent ovarian cancer is treatable but rarely curable. Women with recurrent ovarian cancer may have to undergo another surgery. Because many women with recurrent ovarian cancer receive chemotherapy for a prolonged period of time, sometimes continuously, the toxicities of therapy are a major factor in treatment decisions.

Treatment for Recurrence

The effectiveness and type of treatment for recurrent ovarian cancer depends on what kind of chemotherapy the patient received in the past, the side effects associated with previous treatments, the extent of the recurrent cancer and the length of time since the last treatment was finished called the “time to recurrence,” which researchers often call “progression-free survival.”

The “time to recurrence” is the amount of time between your response to a prior platinum-based chemotherapy and the time of the recurrence.

  • If the time to recurrence is less than six months, the ovarian cancer is classified as platinum-resistant, and the woman will be treated with usually one other type of chemotherapy drug. Women are encouraged to consider participating in a clinical trial that might offer an opportunity to take a new investigational drug that could be helpful.
  • If the time to recurrence is more than six months, the ovarian cancer is classified as platinum-sensitive and the woman will be treated with a platinum-based drug again and another chemotherapy agent.

During treatment for recurrence, it is very important to have a continual dialogue with your doctor about the benefits of treatment, with respect to remission and survival, versus the risks of the side effects that hurt the quality of your life. If you do choose treatment in recurrence, there are several options based on your previous treatments.

Chemotherapy is used to stop the progression of cancer and prolong the patient’s survival. Sometimes, surgery is used to relieve symptoms, such as a blocked bowel caused by the recurrence. In select patients, surgery for debulking of cancer is also an option. It is important to stress again that you, in consultation with your doctor, should set realistic goals for what to expect from treatment. This may mean weighing the possible positive outcomes of a new treatment against the possible negative ones. At some point, a woman may decide that continuing treatment is unlikely to improve her health or survival. A woman must be certain that she is comfortable with her decision whatever it is.