One in 55 women in the USA will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The most common form, epithelial ovarian cancer (EOC), is most commonly diagnosed as stage II or stage III disease. EOC will the focus in this article and I will use the umbrella term, “ovarian cancer.” Unfortunately, there are no effective screening methods and early symptoms can be fairly non-specific, such as bloating, pelvic pain, bleeding, urinary symptoms, and even changed stool habits. See my September 2016 KOAA interview for some details (click on Pressroom on the blue menu bar).
For persons already diagnosed with ovarian cancer, there are available treatments. Consider stage III ovarian cancer: up to 59% of individuals may survive 5 years, and a large fraction of those individuals may be cured.
Here are a few important things to keep in mind about ovarian cancer treatment:
An individual with ovarian cancer will need a Gynecologic Oncologist. This is a highly trained surgeon who performs surgery whenever ovarian cancer is suspected or diagnosed. During surgery, he/she will determine the stage of the cancer (surgical staging) and also try to remove as much tumor as possible (debulking). He/she may consider placing a special channel to enable chemotherapy to be given directly into the abdomen after surgery. He/she is also trained to given chemotherapy and most likely will recommend and supervise chemotherapy after surgery. Follow up after treatments is also with this surgeon and may include physical and pelvic exams, scans, and blood tests.
There are many ways of giving adjuvant chemotherapy. Most patients with ovarian cancer will need adjuvant chemotherapy if they had initial surgery. There may be discussion of pros and cons of different approaches including chemotherapy directly into the abdomen (intra-peritoneal chemotherapy), and IV chemotherapy given on different dosing schedules.
Chemotherapy may be given before surgery. In some cases, it may be beneficial to shrink tumors before proceeding to surgery. A gynecologic oncologist may recommend that a few cycles of chemotherapy be given upfront. In such cases, surgery may then be followed by even more chemotherapy.
In the second part of this series, I will write about ovarian cancer that has grown back (or relapsed). Please be sure to review that also.