Each year, around 13,270 women in the United States will die from ovarian cancer. As the fifth most deadly cancer among women, patients often have questions about the warning signs and causes of this deadly disease.
To mark Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we sat down with Jamie Burrows, DO, from Rockledge Regional Medical Center, and Nonna Kolomeyevskaya, MD, from St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, to explore some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, the available treatment options, and how we can best support individuals living with a diagnosis.
Dr. Jamie Burrows
Rockledge Regional Medical Center
What are the most common warning signs of ovarian cancer?
Some of the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include persistent bloating in the abdomen, pelvic pain or abdominal pain, decreased appetite, vaginal bleeding or discharge that is not normal for the patient, a feeling of feeling full fast, or losing weight without even trying.
Are ovarian cysts a symptom of ovarian cancer?
Not necessarily; ovarian cysts are a normal physiological change of the ovary on a monthly basis in a menstruating female. Cystic structures in the ovary are often normal and not directly connected to ovarian cancer.
Who is at the highest risk of developing ovarian cancer?
The biggest risk factors that we know of are genetic, such as a strong family history of ovarian cancer or even breast cancer. If someone in your family has had ovarian or breast cancer, we encourage you to receive genetic testing for the BRCA gene.
Once a patient is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, where does it commonly spread in the body?
Most cancers will spread to the closest organ first. Thus, ovarian cancer will often first spread to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and pelvic lymph nodes. The cancer can also spread to other parts of the abdominal cavity and eventually spread through the lymphatic system and into the blood.
How can patients be proactive about preventing a diagnosis?
Unfortunately, for the average-risk patient without a family history of the disease, a good screening modality does not currently exist for the disease. For higher-risk populations with family histories of ovarian or breast cancer, we encourage patients to do strong genetic testing, and if we find that you carry the BRCA gene, consider an oophorectomy, or removal of the ovaries.
Dr. Nonna Kolomeyevskaya
St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center
What are some of the first symptoms of ovarian cancer?
Unfortunately, the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be extremely subtle and might not immediately catch patients’ attention. These symptoms can range from bloating and constipation to changes in urination. Understandably, these symptoms might not cause significant alarm in patients. Thus, many patients with ovarian cancer do not visit their physician and receive an ovarian cancer diagnosis until the disease has become widely metastatic.
Who is at a high risk of developing ovarian cancer?
There has been significant research into the causes of ovarian cancer. Research has shown that patients carrying the BRCA mutation are at a significantly high risk of developing ovarian cancer, but, since these mutations are so rare, they make up only a small percentage of ovarian cancer patients. Therefore, it is very difficult to come up with an exact profile of an ovarian cancer patient.
It is important to note that to catch an ovarian cancer diagnosis, women should make sure they visit their OBGYN once a year. Some patients think that post-menopause they do not need to visit their OBGYN, but often ovarian cancer develops post-menopause. By visiting their OBGYN, patients can relay to their physician any symptoms they might be experiencing and potentially catch an ovarian cancer diagnosis before it has spread to other parts of the body.
What are the treatment options available for ovarian cancer?
There are different types of ovarian cancer that require different types of treatment. Frequently, post-diagnosis, we offer surgery to remove the ovaries, and very frequently, we offer chemotherapy post-surgery. We always offer ovarian cancer patients genetic testing, which can guide our treatment plans and give us an insight into the patients’ chances of responding to certain treatments.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.