by Lindsey Grossman
In 2018, an estimated 22,240 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and about 14,070 will die from ovarian cancer. One in 78 women will get ovarian cancer in her lifetime, while 1 in 108 women will die. Ashley Case, MD, a gynecologic oncologist answers our questions about this silent killer that ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women.
Q: Who is at risk for ovarian cancer?
A: Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer, and all women are at risk. Women at highest risk may have a personal or family history of breast, colon or ovarian cancer, are older, have not had children, have had endometriosis or are obese. It is more common in white women than in African American women.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: Symptoms may be vague and are often attributed to another process. However, studies have found that symptoms do occur in many women even at early stages. These symptoms may include bloating, urinary urgency or frequency, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, bowel dysfunction and pelvic or abdominal pain. These symptoms may also be caused by gastrointestinal, urologic or other conditions.
Q: At what point should you contact your doctor?
A: Symptoms that persist or represent a change from normal are most concerning. Women who have these symptoms daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor. Prompt medical attention may lead to diagnosis at an earlier stage, which is associated with an improved prognosis. If ovarian cancer is suspected, consult a specialist. A gynecologic oncologist specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of women with cancer of the reproductive organs. If ovarian, breast, uterine or colon cancer runs in your family, tell your doctor. You may be at increased risk for developing these cancers and there may be testing or risk reduction strategies to explore.
Q: What types of treatments are available?
A: Treatment involves surgery by a gynecologic oncologist, often followed by chemotherapy. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy (in the abdomen) is utilized in some patients. Hormonal treatment, biologic drugs and immunotherapy may also be utilized at some point during treatment.
Q: Is there anything you can do to prevent ovarian cancer?
A: We urge women to LEARN, LISTEN, ACT. LEARN the symptoms and risks of ovarian cancer. Take note of your family history and seek genetic testing if appropriate. LISTEN to your body for symptoms associated with ovarian cancer. ACT to seek care; if a gynecologic cancer is suspected or diagnosed, seek care first from a gynecologic oncologist.
Ashley Case, MD, is a gynecologic oncologist with Hope Women’s Cancer Center.