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Ovarian cancer symptoms often go unnoticed or mistaken for other issues, making early detection more difficult.
Swedish works with patients to educate them about their risk for ovarian cancer and what their treatment options are.
Talk to your doctor about genetic testing for ovarian cancer.
September marks National Ovarian Cancer Month, a time to promote greater understanding and awareness of the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths in women. It’s also a time to make sure you and the women you care about know what advancements in early detection and cancer prevention are available.
At the Swedish Cancer Institute, a group of gynecological oncologists is leading the Paul G. Allen Cancer Research Center at Swedish Cancer Institute's Initiative for Cancer Prevention and Early Detection (IPED), which aims to reach more at-risk patients with potentially lifesaving genetic counseling and testing to help prevent and detect cancer in its earliest stages.
“We’ve made great strides in the past ten years with more approvals for drugs to treat ovarian cancers than ever before,” says Dr. Fernanda Musa, gynecological oncologist and member of the IPED working group. “But these interventions don’t always work for all patients, which is why we are working to improve screening and do everything we can to help patients maintain their health and their lives.”
Symptoms of the silent cancer
Most people with ovarian cancer – about 75% – are diagnosed in stage III (3) or stage IV (4), after the cancer has begun to spread outside the ovaries. It’s earned a reputation as the “silent cancer” because, in its earliest stages, ovarian cancer often causes no symptoms, or symptoms that can be mistaken for other health issues, like:
- Abdominal pain
- Feeling full quickly
- Pelvic pain
- Trouble eating
- Urinary urgency or urinating frequently
Women deserve to know if they are high-risk
Ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological cancer. By the time women get a diagnosis, patients are already facing a difficult path ahead. IPED wants to change this prognosis by detecting cancer earlier when the disease has yet to spread or even before it becomes cancer.
“To date, every intervention for the early detection of ovarian cancer has failed these patients,” says Musa.
Though ovarian cancer is rare in the general population, it is common in families with a genetic predisposition to it. Many women who know that they have a family history also want to know their own genetic risk so they can make an informed decision on cancer prevention.
For this high-risk group, one option is preemptive, prophylactic surgery to remove the ovaries, which can profoundly impact their fertility and family planning options. . It’s something Dr. Musa and the team want to avoid, if possible, and genetic testing and counseling ensures each patient is making an informed decision.
“My goal is to help patients make choices that are right for them, and knowing your risk is your primary tool for being in control and keeping yourself healthy,” she says. “It all starts with knowledge.”
Swedish matches patients to personalized clinical trials
For patients who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, clinical trials are helping develop treatments that address disease at the molecular level. These include:
- National Cancer Institute (NCI) trials
- Cooperative group trials with the Gynecological Oncology Group
- Industry-sponsored trials
Every ovarian cancer patient Swedish cares for has the opportunity to undergo genetic testing as well as genetic sequencing of their cancer, allowing Dr. Musa and her team to obtain detailed information and tailor cancer treatment to the specific individual.
This information is also helpful for families and goes beyond BRCA 1 and 2 genes, including full cancer risk panels that inform how relatives should be screened and who would benefit from risk-reducing surgery. Further, the molecular signature can be used to match patients to available targeted therapies and clinical trials, ensuring truly personalized care.
Ask your doctor about genetic testing for ovarian cancer
While it’s especially important for people with a known family history of ovarian cancer to talk to their doctors about genetic testing, Dr. Musa believes this information should be accessible to everyone regardless of their family history.
“An ovarian cancer diagnosis is one of the scariest moments a woman and her family can go through in life, but there is so much hope, and things are always changing,” says Musa. “It’s important to remember that survival statistics are a snapshot of the past.”
“I believe that with all of the work being done, the statistics will look much more hopeful ten years from now.”
Learn more and find a provider
If you have questions about ovarian cancer testing and prevention, contact Swedish Cancer Institute. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual appointments.
With Swedish Virtual Care, you can connect face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your family and health history. To find a doctor, try searching our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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