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Make education part of your National Women's Health Week experience. One way to do this is to find out more about the diseases women face, including ovarian cancer, which is the fifth leading cause of death in women. Knowing some key information can make the fight against ovarian cancer stronger; Dr. Elena Moore, Gynecologic Oncology at NorthShore, provides insight below:
Why is it so difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer at an early stage?Ovarian cancer is generally quite aggressive, therefore, it likely does not stay at an early stage for long. Additionally, we currently do not have good screening tests to help detect ovarian cancer early.
What are some symptoms to look out for? Pelvic pain, bloating, getting full quickly, sudden change in bowel habits or new urinary symptoms are the main symptoms to look out for.Does ovarian cancer share symptoms with other women’s health conditions such as endometriosis and PCOS? Can these conditions impact each other? Ovarian cancer can share some symptoms in common with endometriosis and PCOS such as pelvic pain. Endometriosis does increase the risk of some rare forms of ovarian cancer (endometrioid or clear cell histologies). PCOS has been known to increase the risk of endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) and also has been found to increase the risk of ovarian cancer in some studies.Are there any preventative steps that women can take? When does preventative surgery become an option?The most important preventative step that a woman can take to prevent ovarian cancer is to follow-up regularly with her gynecologist for exams and discussion of any new symptoms. Additionally, it is important to talk to your doctor about your family history. In patients with a strong family history of cancer, genetic testing for inheritable mutations that place patients at higher risk of cancer may be indicated. Preventative surgery for ovarian cancer is generally reserved for patients found to be at significantly higher risk than the average population, such as those with certain genetic mutations. BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are the most common of those mutations.Is ovarian cancer genetic? Does having a family member who had ovarian cancer indicate that a relative will also get it?About 20% of ovarian cancers can be linking to inheritable genetic mutations. Having a family member with ovarian cancer does not necessarily indicate that a relative will also get it. However, this should prompt a discussion with your doctor to see if genetic testing is indicated. If someone believes they might need to be examined for ovarian cancer or are experiencing related symptoms, who should they contact? (Primary Care or specialist) If a patient is concerned about symptoms that could be related to ovarian cancer, their gynecologist would be the best person to see. Some primary care physicians are also very experienced in gynecologic care and can also triage these symptoms in many cases. What are some of the common ways ovarian cancer is treated? Ovarian cancer treatment depends greatly on the stage at diagnosis and the type of ovarian cancer that is found. Most commonly, treatment involves a combination of surgery to remove the cancer and chemotherapy.Is there any ongoing research about ovarian cancer? There are a plethora of ongoing research studies about ovarian cancer at NorthShore and throughout the country. At NorthShore, we are participating in several clinical trials looking to determine the best ways to treat ovarian cancer. We also have a large ovarian cancer basic science laboratory at NorthShore headed by our division director, Dr. Gustavo Rodriguez. They are doing cutting edge research focused on ovarian cancer prevention.