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Ovarian Cancer

Risk Factors | Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Additional Patient Support

Ovarian cancer develops when cancerous cells develop either within the ovaries, on the surface of the ovaries or within the fallopian tubes—these cells typically spread primarily via a shedding mechanism and can rapidly spread to other parts of the abdomen. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the U.S.

The experienced, collaborative team of specialists at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center combines the most advanced scientific knowledge and technology with a comprehensive and compassionate approach to care, creating a program of personalized medicine and patient-centered care for each individual diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Drawing from the diverse experience of physicians, surgeons, nurses, researchers and a host of other highly trained healthcare professionals, the Kellogg Cancer Center team works collaboratively and is dedicated to putting patients—and families—at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

Little is still known about the genetics associated with the development of ovarian cancer. Recently, it has been prorposed that the cell of origin may involve cells that have originated in the fallopian tube, as supported by ongoing research into the microscopic and genetic factors of the disease.

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:

  • Women with a strong personal or family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial, prostate or colon cancer
  • Women of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish heritage

One of the most consistent and significant risk factors for ovarian cancer is a family history, particularly in first-degree relatives. The risk in first-degree and second-degree relatives of women with breast and ovarian cancers is 3 fold, to as high as a 5% lifetime risk. Alterations in the BRCA 1 and 2 genes occur in 10-12% of these women and is associated with as high as a 40% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. Additionally, 2-3% of women with ovarian cancer are from families with hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) or Lynch syndrome. These families carry mutations in DNA repair genes and have as high as 10% to 13% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. 

Genetic counseling and testing are an option for women who may believe they are at high risk of getting ovarian cancer. These women may be candidates for strategies to screen for ovarian cancer or for medical or surgical strategies to prevent the disease.

NorthShore is the first in the nation to provide our patients and their family members with Health Heritage, a secure tool that helps individuals create a complete family health history and personalized risk reports.

Although ovarian cancer symptoms may not develop until advanced stages, they many include:

  • Sense of pelvic heaviness
  • Abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Changes in urination
  • Pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse

Be sure to notify your physician if you experience any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks.

Ovarian Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

Early detection of ovarian cancer is difficult, as early symptoms are subtle and often mistaken for other conditions. Ovarian cancer screening can be considered for women at high risk of developing cancer. Routine pelvic examinations performed by your doctor may find a pelvic or abdominal mass which may require more tests to determine if ovarian cancer is present. Tests may CA-125 – a genetic marker for ovarian cancer, a blood test and an ultrasound.

If a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made, your physician will then determine if the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries or to other parts of the body. Additional tests, including surgery, may be required for your physician to determine the severity or stage of the cancer, including whether it has spread to other areas of the body. More than half of all women diagnosed are diagnosed in the advanced stage of the disease.

Personalized Ovarian Cancer Treatment

When ovarian cancer is detected or suspected, surgery is usually the recommended treatment. Studies have shown that surgery performed by a specialist in gynecologic oncology results in a higher rate of cure. Chemotherapy is used after surgery to treat any residual disease and can also be used to treat women who have a recurrence. NorthShore offers a full range of surgical options and expertise including minimally invasive and robotic surgery. In addition, NorthShore has a number of clinical trials open that are examining novel approaches to treatment of primary and reccurent ovarian cancer. 

Women with a high risk of ovarian cancer can talk to their doctor about having their ovaries removed, even if they do not have any symptoms and all testing is negative for ovarian cancer. This risk reducing procedure is called a prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Women with a positive test for BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations may wish to explore this option with their physician.

Every week, our multidisciplinary team meets in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. For ovarian cancer, your team may include your medical oncologistsurgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, geneticist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for each patient.

Patients are at the center of this multidisciplinary team, and Kellogg staff arrange for them to be seen by their multidisciplinary team at one appointment, not only for their convenience but to provide a consensus on their course of treatment. Our use of one of the most advanced Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems in the country enhances our open communication and promotes collaboration in our patient care.

Additional Patient Support

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine services, financial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 847.570.2112.