Relapsed ovarian cancer: challenges and management strategies for a chronic disease

Oncologist. 2002;7 Suppl 5:20-8. doi: 10.1634/theoncologist.7-suppl_5-20.


Advances in the treatment and early detection of ovarian cancer have led to gains in 5-year survival rates, with 52% of women diagnosed between 1992 and 1997 surviving 5 years or longer, compared with 41% of women diagnosed between 1983 and 1985. Although approximately 10%-15% of patients achieve and maintain complete responses to therapy, the remaining patients have persistent disease or eventually relapse. These patients will generally undergo a series of treatments, each associated with progressively shorter treatment-free intervals. Nevertheless, median survival of patients with recurrent ovarian cancer ranges from 12-24 months, demonstrating the chronic natural history of the disease. Advances in the treatment of ovarian cancer over the past decade have led to these improvements and have prompted oncologists to now view the management of patients with ovarian cancer as an ongoing, long-term challenge. This shift in approach has raised important new questions regarding patient management, including the need to define trigger points for initiating or changing treatment (e.g., sequential increases in serum cancer antigen 125 levels, appearance of symptoms, or cumulative toxicities), anticipation of impending treatment decision points, recognition that the overtreatment of patients early in the disease process may adversely affect future treatment opportunities, and a renewed emphasis on patient education and participation in decision-making. This review will discuss these important patient management issues and will conclude with case studies illustrating two distinct treatment strategies (planning and sequencing) for the long-term management of patients with ovarian cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / adverse effects*
  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • CA-125 Antigen / blood
  • Chronic Disease
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / blood
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / blood
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Prognosis


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • CA-125 Antigen