Ovarian Cancer Basics and Resources
Bloating, fatigue, abdominal pain, unexplained weight gain or loss, bowel/bladder changes, feeling full after only a few bites. Sound familiar? In full disclosure, I have never experienced a cancer diagnosis. Yet, from time to time, I’ve experienced a few of these symptoms (and being a woman, sometimes its on a monthly basis, if you catch my drift!) and I bet you have too. These vague symptoms that are also sometimes subtle changes occurring in our bodies could be a variety of things…or it could be nothing more than a women’s monthly cycle. Yet, if you experience persistent and daily symptoms or something that just does not feel right, consider being evaluated by your doctor, especially if the symptoms are noticeable for 2-3 weeks or longer. Again, it may be nothing, but…
Ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as the "silent killer" because symptoms can be general and hard to pinpoint. It can occur in women at any age and there is no screening test for ovarian cancer, unlike, for example, mammography used for breast cancer screening or the Pap test for cervical cancer screening. Once a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made, many times the patient is already at a late stage.
Many women diagnosed with ovarian cancer consider it a journey. Depending on the stage of the disease at time of diagnosis, extensive treatment may be required including surgery and chemotherapy. Our Mayo Clinic gynecologic oncologist, William Cliby, MD, provides a brief (5 minute) overview about the diagnosis of epithelial ovarian cancer, the most common type of ovarian cancer, and the treatment process at Mayo Clinic.
For many women living with ovarian cancer, one of the greatest concerns is recurrence. Recurrence is common with ovarian cancer. Even with surgery, microscopic residual disease can remain. Many of you who have been touched by ovarian cancer may have heard the comparison between spilling sugar on the floor to surgery for ovarian cancer. When you spill sugar on the floor and try to sweep it up, it is nearly impossible to collect every little granule that spilled. The same is said to be true with ovarian cancer. Residual microscopic disease can be left behind.
Once a patient has completed initial treatment, again, usually with surgery and chemotherapy, she is still monitored closely with evaluations by her doctor and tests including scans (CT or MRI), blood tests (including tumor marker CA-125 blood test) and physical exams conducted by a trained medical specialist. If a recurrence is detected, patients will likely work with their oncologist to determine the best treatment strategy which usually involves chemotherapy or other drug classifications. Clinical trials may also be considered as a treatment options at any time, whether it be at the time of initial diagnosis or for any subsequent recurrences. In some instances, women may want to seek a second opinion about their diagnosis and treatment options. In addition, some women may want to inquire about genetic testing and/or mutations related to their cancer.
Mayo Clinic Radio aired a show on September 2, 2017 featuring Mayo Clinic’s Carrie Langstraat, MD, a gynecologic oncologist as she discussed treatment options for ovarian cancer, the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, and research on the horizon. In addition, she is joined by ovarian cancer advocate Jamie Groebner who shared her story about her sister’s fight with ovarian cancer and her personal experience as a family member considering genetic testing and the implications for her and her family. Jamie and Dr. Langstraat also touched on the topic of previvorship, which was mentioned to you in one of our first articles on this Mayo Clinic Connect, on October 10, 2017. The video is 18 minutes but I think it provides a unique perspective that is relatable to those of you who are living with ovarian cancer or know someone who is.
Care and support are essential components to living with cancer. Talking with other ovarian cancer survivors may be helpful to you and I invite you to utilize this forum to engage in conversations that are meaningful to you.
In addition, here are a few resources which you may find helpful for support, research and information about ovarian cancer and ovarian cancer recurrence.
Are you an ovarian cancer survivor? Maybe you are a family member, friend or caregiver? We would love to hear from you about your experiences with ovarian cancer, being diagnosed and receiving treatment. What was/has been helpful to you throughout the journey?