Ovarian Cancer

Quick Reference Guide

Open a 2-page quick reference summary of the therapies best supported by evidence for use with ovarian cancer:

Our goal is to help you live as well as you can for as long as you can using an optimal integrative combination of conventional and complementary therapies and approaches.

Key Points

  • Early detection, prompt and appropriate treatment, and general health support may greatly increase your success in treating the cancer and in maintaining quality of life.
  • We summarize a protocol used at the Bastyr University Integrative Oncology Research Center for treating ovarian cancer.
  • The 7 Healing Practices are the beginning point for bringing your body to health and wellness.
  • Complementary therapies can be useful to enhance conventional treatment effects, improve quality of life and possibly even extend life for those with ovarian cancer.
  • A number of natural products, off-label and overlooked novel cancer approaches (we call them ONCAs) and other types of therapies show benefits in three domains:
    • Treating the cancer
    • Managing side effects and promoting wellness
    • Reducing risk of both cancer onset and recurrence

Many women with ovarian cancer are interested in going beyond conventional cancer therapies—that is, having an integrative approach to care that blends the best of conventional and complementary therapies. Your reading this indicates that you are likely one of these women.

Perhaps you have just been diagnosed with ovarian cancer or with a recurrence of your cancer. Now you may be embarking on surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or some combination of these—maybe even all three. You are curious to see if complementary therapies or healing practices could help your treatment be more effective or bolster your resilience or prevent or manage treatment side effects.

Or maybe you’ve completed your treatments and you want to know what else you can do to keep the cancer from coming back or keep it at bay. Perhaps living with ovarian cancer has brought on difficult emotions, or made it hard to sleep well or challenged your relationships. Is there help for that?

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Laura Pole

Integrative Care in Ovarian Cancer

Before investigating integrative care in ovarian cancer, we recommend reviewing integrative cancer care in general.

Our goal is to help you live as well as you can for as long as you can using an optimal integrative combination of conventional and complementary therapies and approaches.

Cancers are composed of cells that divide without stopping. Some divide slowly, others quickly. Some are more invasive than others. Your body terrain—the internal environment that is influenced by external factors such as the foods you eat, the chemicals around you, the light and radiation you’re exposed to, plus internal factors such as stress hormones, sex hormones, your fitness, feelings of being loved and your sense of purpose—can set the stage for cancer.

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Clinical Practice Guidelines

Example: Bastyr Integrative Oncology Care—A Naturopathic Oncology Approach

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Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

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For more information about protocols and programs, see our Integrative Protocols and Programs page.

Integrative Therapies in Ovarian Cancer

7 Healing Practices: The Foundation

Let your intuition guide you in choosing where to start with these healing practices.

Any of the 7 Healing Practices are a good beginning. Eating well and moving more pack a powerful one-two punch in potentially improving treatment outcomes, enhancing quality of life and/or reducing risk of recurrence in ovarian cancer. Moreover, evidence shows that managing stress, sleeping well, creating a healing environment, sharing love and support and exploring what matters now can help women with ovarian cancer. Ultimately, let your intuition guide you in choosing where to start with these healing practices.

Eating Well

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Moving More

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Managing Stress

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Sleeping Well

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Creating a Healing Environment

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Sharing Love and Support

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Exploring What Matters Now

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Chemosensitivity Testing

In many ways, each case of cancer is unique. Your personal body terrain and tumor microenvironment, which is a combination of genes, nutritional status, stress response, circadian rhythms, fitness, microbiome, history of infectious disease, hormone levels and much more, is as unique to you as your fingerprints are. Your body and tumor may not respond exactly like others to any given treatment.

If feasible, your healthcare team can collect a live sample of tumor tissue and send it for chemosensitivity testing to identify your cancer’s responses to both standard and complementary therapies. Test results can identify which chemotherapies and natural products are likely to be either most effective or ineffective or in treating the tumor.

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Beyond the 7 Healing Practices: Further Integrative Therapies

Complementary Approaches in Ovarian Cancer: Involving Conventional Healthcare Providers

A 2018 review of complementary treatments for gynecologic cancer found these rates of use and communication between patients and healthcare providers:44

  • Fewer than 25 percent of patients in the US received any information about complementary or alternative therapies from their physicians, nurses or other conventional medical providers.

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Conventional treatments are readily available. Complementary therapies can be useful to enhance conventional treatment effects, improve quality of life and possibly even extend life for those with ovarian cancer. Many complementary therapies―when chosen thoughtfully, reviewed with your oncology treatment team and used alongside conventional therapies—can become part of your integrative cancer care approach.

Therapies are grouped according to their effects:

  • Treating the cancer
  • Managing side effects and promoting wellness
  • Reducing risk
  • Optimizing your terrain

We present natural products and off-label, overlooked and novel cancer approaches (ONCAs) in six groups:

  1. Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, easy access
  2. Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, limited access
  3. Limited clinical evidence of efficacy but good safety, used in leading integrative programs
  4. Limited clinical evidence of efficacy, or significant cautions, but potential significant benefit
  5. Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety
  6. Evidence of no efficacy or may be dangerous

Other integrative therapies and approaches are described but not categorized. See the full summaries as linked for more information on each of these therapies.

Treating the Cancer

Working against cancer growth or spread, improving survival, or working with other treatments or therapies to improve their anticancer action

Conventional Treatments

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Natural Products

Traditional Medicine Therapies

Throughout this summary, you will find examples of therapies used by and in many cases created by traditional medical systems. Foods and herbs such as medicinal mushrooms, soy and curcumin are part of traditional systems. Evidence shows that herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may help in maintaining immune function in women with ovarian cancer. Mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation and yoga also have roots in these systems. Acupuncture, another approach that is part of the Chinese and Korean medicine traditions, has helped those with ovarian cancer manage symptoms such as nausea.

“While many herbals have been shown to have anticancer properties, the research to date has been largely preclinical (in vitro), without clinical evidence of their effectiveness.”46 Here we make clear the level of evidence behind natural products.

Group 1: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, easy access

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Group 3: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy but good safety, used in leading integrative programs

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Group 4: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy, or significant cautions, but potential significant benefit

May be used in leading integrative oncology plans. Therapies in this group may need more medical oversight and surveillance.

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Other therapies with preclinical evidence only for treating the cancer

Group 5: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

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Group 6: Evidence of no efficacy or may be dangerous

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Off-label, Overlooked or Novel Cancer Approaches (ONCAs)

Group 1: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, easy access

These therapies may be widely used in integrative cancer protocols and traditional medical systems.

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Group 2: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, limited access

Some may require a prescription, for example.

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Group 4: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy, or significant cautions, but potential significant benefit

May be used in leading integrative oncology plans. Therapies in this group may need more medical oversight and surveillance.

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Group 5: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

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Therapies using heat, sound or light

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Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

Sexual Activity, Depression and Ovarian Cancer

A number of sexual difficulties can arise if ovarian cancer treatment causes hormonal changes:

  • Vaginal dryness leading to painful intercourse
  • Vulvodynia (pain and/or burning in the vulvar area)
  • Decreased libido

Focus on survival can lead to a lack of interest in sex. Symptoms, including depression, anxiety and fatigue can also lead to sexual difficulties.

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Conventional Treatments

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Natural Products

Group 1: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, easy access

These therapies may be widely used in integrative cancer protocols and traditional medical systems.

Read more

Group 2: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, limited access

Some may require a prescription, for example.

Read more

Group 3: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy but good safety, used in leading integrative programs

Read more

Group 4: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy, or significant cautions, but potential significant benefit

May be used in leading integrative oncology plans. Therapies in this group may need more medical oversight and surveillance.

Read more

Group 5: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

Read more

Off-label, Overlooked or Novel Cancer Approaches (ONCAs)

Group 5: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

Read more

Energy Therapies

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Mind-Body, Spiritual and Consciousness-changing Approaches

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Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

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Diets and Metabolic Therapies

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Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of developing cancer or the risk of recurrence

Managing Thrombosis

Ovarian cancer brings a high risk of formation of blood clots (thrombosis).180 For prevention, Keith Block provides information on modifying the terrain factor he calls hypercoagulation.181 He discusses testing, lifestyle approaches and supplements to reduce risks. For more information see chapter 17, “Blood Circulation and Cancer: The Thick and the Thin.”

Risk Factors

Risk factors for ovarian cancer that are generally not under a woman’s control:182

  • Family history of ovarian cancer or BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation (these mutations are responsible for most family history incidence)
  • Age and menopause status
  • Greater genetically predicted adult height
  • Greater number of menstrual cycles, influenced by early menarche, late menopause, fewer pregnancies or periods of lactation or contraceptive use
  • Infertility
  • Personal history of breast cancer

Lifestyle Associations

Risk factors that may be influenced by a woman’s lifestyle choices and behaviors:183

  • Smoking tobacco with (borderline) mucinous cancers
  • Use of hormone replacement therapy (estrogen plus progesterone) for serous and endometrioid ovarian cancers
  • Breastfeeding is modestly associated with a decreased risk of premenopausal ovarian cancer for the mother, likely related to fewer menstrual cycles.
  • Inactivity (limited evidence)
  • Being overweight or obese (inconsistent evidence)
  • A rotating work schedule (conflicting evidence)

Some initial evidence shows that the microbiome in the cervix and vagina may relate to or indicate ovarian cancer risk. Lower levels of the protective bacteria lactobacillus in the microbiota in the cervix was associated with higher incidence of ovarian cancer or or BRCA1 mutation status, especially in younger women. The research is too preliminary to draw a causal relationship, and no evidence yet shows that restoring the lactobacillus microbiota in the cervix/vagina might lower the risk.184

Natural Products

Group 1: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, easy access

These therapies may be widely used in integrative cancer protocols and traditional medical systems.

Read more

Group 3: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy but good safety, used in leading integrative programs

Read more

Group 4: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy, or significant cautions, but potential significant benefit

May be used in leading integrative oncology plans. Therapies in this group may need more medical oversight and surveillance.

Read more

Group 5: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

Other therapies with preclinical evidence only for reducing risk

Read more

Group 6: Evidence of no efficacy or may be dangerous

Read more

Off-label, Overlooked or Novel Cancer Approaches (ONCAs)

Group 4: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy, or significant cautions, but potential significant benefit

May be used in leading integrative oncology plans. Therapies in this group may need more medical oversight and surveillance.

Read more

Optimizing Your Terrain

Creating an environment within your body that does not support cancer development, growth or spread

Natural Products

Group 1: Good clinical evidence of efficacy & safety, easy access

Read more

Group 3: Limited clinical evidence of efficacy but good safety, used in leading integrative programs

Read more

Group 4: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

Read more

Group 5: Especially promising preclinical or emerging clinical evidence of efficacy and safety

Read more

Energy Therapies

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Manipulative and Body-Based Methods

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Mind-Body, Spiritual and Consciousness-changing Approaches

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Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on September 17, 2019.

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More Information

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