Scripps physicians are experienced in the most complex cases of gynecologic cancers. The disease is found in more than 21,000 women annually in the U.S. Since ovarian cancer requires specialized treatment plans, our medical team works collaboratively to decipher the best methods to fight the disease while ensuring the highest quality of life for patients.
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An estimated one in five ovarian cancers is detected early. There is no specific screening procedure that pinpoints the disease, but it can be discovered and staged through tests that may be prompted by an abnormal pelvic exam or persistent symptoms.
Taking proactive steps to manage your health can make all the difference. Be sure to see your physician if you are experiencing any possible symptoms or if you are at higher risk for developing ovarian cancer and have noticed sudden changes in your health.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or quickly feeling full
- Urinating often or having the sensation to urinate often
A physician may diagnose ovarian cancer through imaging tests such as an ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, to check for the presence of a pelvic mass, enlarged lymph nodes or possible signs of a cancer’s spread to the liver or other organs. Other procedures, such as a minimally invasive laparoscopy, or a blood test that can check for high levels of the cancer antigen CA-125, can be part of an ovarian cancer diagnosis regimen.
Patients with a buildup of fluid in the abdominal area may undergo a procedure called paracentesis to test for the presence of cancer cells.
Your Scripps Health multidisciplinary team will work with you to design the most appropriate care plan and course of treatment that is right for you.
Primary risk factors for ovarian cancer can include:
- A family history of ovarian cancer, especially direct relatives including mother, sisters and daughters
- A family history of other cancer types, including colon, rectal, pancreatic and breast
- Inherited mutations in the BRCA1 gene or BRCA2 gene, both of which are also linked to higher risk of developing breast cancer
These two genes make proteins that suppress abnormal cell growth and repair DNA damage, which helps to suppress potential malignant tumors. If one or both of these genes in a woman is mutated, the chances of developing ovarian cancer increase.
Lifetime risk of ovarian cancer for women with a mutation of the BRCA1 gene ranges from 35 percent to 70 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. The risk is 10 percent to 30 percent for women with a BRCA2 gene mutation.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing using blood or saliva is available through Scripps-affiliated physicians. Scripps Health also has genetic counselors to work with you and your family.
Women with a family history of cancers of the breast, ovarian, fallopian tubes, or peritoneal area should be evaluated for possible mutations of BRCA1 or BRCA2. Ashkenazi Jewish women are approximately 10 times more likely to have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation than the general U.S. population, according to the American Cancer Society.
Treatment of ovarian cancer may include one or more of the following: surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Some investigational therapies have not yet been conclusively proven safe and effective but may also be available as part of treatment.
Options may include a laparotomy (traditional open surgery), minimally invasive or robotic-assisted surgery for removal of one or both ovaries (oophorectomy) or removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).
A bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is the removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Chemotherapy is usually combined with surgery to treat ovarian cancer. It is most commonly administered intravenously.
Another type of treatment called intraperitoneal chemotherapy involves delivery of cancer drugs directly into the peritoneal area through a port in the patient’s abdomen.
Chemotherapy in combination with a targeted therapy drug, bevacizumab, may also be an option, depending on patient health and stage of ovarian cancer. Scripps has hospital and outpatient infusion centers conveniently located in San Diego County. Some Scripps physicians also offer outpatient infusion services in their offices.
Radiation therapy may be used if ovarian cancer has spread to other parts of the body. However, it is rarely used as primary treatment for the disease.
Complementary therapies, including therapeutic nutrition and supplementation, acupuncture, yoga and massage therapy, can help manage cancer symptoms.