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Surgical Procedures for Ovarian Cancer

Treatment for ovarian cancer begins with a surgery called a laparotomy. The extent of the surgery from this point will depend on how advanced the cancer is. Even if the cancer has not spread outside of the ovary, radical surgery is usually the best first treatment for ovarian cancer. Generally, the fewer cancer cells left behind after surgery, the better the outcome.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all women with ovarian cancer have surgery performed by a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor with special training in the treatment of cancers of the gynecologic organs.


Laparotomy is the opening of your abdomen by traditional surgery. Depending on your situation, your surgical procedure may involve:

  • Identifying exactly how advanced the cancer is and how far it has spread
  • Removing only the diseased ovary through oophorectomy—uncommon
  • Removing both ovaries, both fallopian tubes, the uterus, and as much suspicious-looking lymph nodes or tissue as possible if the cancer has spread to other organs in the pelvis

For some early tumors, surgery alone may be a cure.

Most of the time, an incision will be made up and down in the midline of your abdomen, through which the ovary or female organs will be removed. The vagina will be sewn closed from the inside in such a way that sexual intercourse will not be hindered.

Lymph nodes will be sampled routinely, and those appearing suspicious will be taken out. The omentum is a fatty tissue around the intestine. It will be sampled if not entirely removed, as this is often involved with tumor deposits. The liver and diaphragm muscle will be explored, as will the bowel and the fluid that is inside your abdomen. Organs and lymph nodes that are removed will be sent to the pathologist for analysis.

The goal of the surgery is to remove as much tumor as possible. This is called debulking. Some believe that optimal debulking is the most important intervention that results in a cure. Optimal debulking is currently defined as leaving no piece of tumor behind that is greater than 1.0 centimeter (cm) in size. In the rare situation where more limited surgery is performed, the extent of the surgery will be dictated by what the surgeon finds.

Revision Information

  • Ovarian cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed January 3, 2014.

  • Ovarian cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated May 6, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.

  • Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed January 3, 2014.

  • 9/18/2009 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance FDA clears a test for ovarian cancer. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: Published September 11, 2009. Accessed January 6, 2014.