September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Disease accounted for an estimated 21,290 new cases and 14,180 deaths in 2015

Dr. Susan Park, gynecologic oncologist, writes about September being Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

Editor’s note: This blog post is written by Dr. Susan Park, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. She practices at the Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley and Riverside Community Hospital in Riverside.

This coming September, you might notice that teal is the accent color of the season. That is because September marks “Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month” and as such a national movement is underway to increase awareness to this “silent killer” with the aid of the teal colored ribbon.

Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death among gynecologic malignancies accounting for an estimated 21,290 new cases and 14,180 deaths in 2015. With more than 70% of patients presenting with advanced disease, early detection remains critical to achieving higher rates of cure and improving survival.

Due to the location of the ovaries and the complex biology of ovarian cancers, early detection, which can lead to improved survival, is challenging. However, consensus guidelines for ovarian cancer symptoms may help enable earlier diagnoses. Women who report new and persistent onset abdominal bloating, pelvic and/or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or early satiety, urinary symptoms of urgency or frequency, should talk to their providers for further evaluation.

Whereas routine screening is not currently recommended for average risk patients, patients at high risk defined as a genetic BRCA mutation or strong family history may benefit from routine CA-125 monitoring and pelvic ultrasound. These high patients may also be considered for risk reducing surgery with removal of their tubes and ovaries.

Patients diagnosed with ovarian cancer traditionally require a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Depending on the degree of disease burden, chemotherapy may be given prior to surgery or surgery may be recommended upfront.

Recently, alternatives to traditional treatment options have been explored as researchers have identified predictive tests called biomarkers for treatment response and to determine how aggressive the tumors behave. Comprehensive genomic characterization technology have also helped to identify targeted therapies specific to each individual patient’s clinical scenario. Currently, consensus recommendation is to offer genetic testing for all ovarian cancer patients.

Collectively, advances in early detection capabilities through improved screening modalities and symptom awareness coupled with improving therapeutics bring hope to achieving higher cure rates and longer, healthier lives.

A poster detailing information about ovarian cancer.

A poster detailing information about ovarian cancer.

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