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Ovarian Cancer

Risk Factors | Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Additional Patient Support

Ovarian cancer develops when cancerous cells develop either within the ovaries, on the surface of the ovaries or within the fallopian tubes—these cells typically spread primarily via a shedding mechanism and can rapidly spread to other parts of the abdomen. It is the second most common gynecologic cancer in the United States.

The experienced specialists at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center combine the most advanced scientific knowledge and technology with a collaborative, personalized approach to care. Drawing from the diverse experience of physicians, surgeons, nurses, researchers and a host of other highly trained healthcare professionals, the Kellogg Cancer Center team places patients—and families—at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors

More and more is being discovered about the genetics associated with the development of ovarian cancer. Recently, it has been proposed that the cell of origin may involve cells that have originated in the fallopian tube, as supported by ongoing research into the microscopic and genetic factors of the disease.

  • Risk factors for ovarian cancer include:
  • Strong personal or family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial, prostate or colon cancer
  • Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish heritage
  • Obesity
  • Never having had a full term pregnancy
  • Postmenopausal hormone replacement use

Family history plays a consistent and significant role in risk factors for ovarian cancer, particularly in first-degree relatives. All women with a first-degree relative with ovarian cancer as well as that specific family member should undergo genetic testing to determine whether they carry a genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer. As many as 20 percent of patients with ovarian cancer will carry a gene that predisposes them to the disease. Additionally, alterations in BRCA genes occur in up to 20 percent of women with ovarian cancer. These mutations are associated with as high as a 50 percent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. There are several other genes that predispose women to ovarian cancer such as those found in Lynch Syndrome among others, which all carry a lower but in some cases significant risk of ovarian cancer. 

Genetic counseling and testing are an option for women who may believe they are at high risk of getting ovarian cancer. These women may be candidates for strategies to screen for ovarian cancer or for medical or surgical strategies to prevent the disease.

Although ovarian cancer symptoms may not develop until advanced stages, they many include:

  • Sense of pelvic heaviness
  • Abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Changes in urination
  • Pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse

Be sure to notify your physician if you experience any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks.

Ovarian Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

Early detection of ovarian cancer is difficult. Early symptoms are subtle and often mistaken for other conditions. Ovarian cancer screening can be considered for women at high risk of developing cancer. Routine pelvic examinations performed by your doctor may find a pelvic or abdominal mass, which may require more tests to determine if ovarian cancer is present. Tests may include CA-125 (a genetic marker for ovarian cancer), a blood test and an ultrasound.

If a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is made, your physician will then determine if the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries or to other parts of the body. Additional tests, including surgery, may be required for your physician to determine the severity or stage of the cancer. More than half of all women diagnosed are diagnosed in the advanced stage of the disease.

Personalized Ovarian Cancer Treatment

When ovarian cancer is detected or suspected, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy are usually the recommended treatment. Studies have shown that surgery performed by a specialist in gynecologic oncology results in a higher rate of cure. Chemotherapy is used after surgery to treat any residual disease and occasionally before surgery to help shrink the tumor to make removal more feasible. Chemotherapy can also be used to treat women who have a recurrence. NorthShore offers a full range of surgical options and expertise including advanced cytoreductive surgery as well as minimally invasive and robotic surgery when appropriate. In addition, NorthShore offers a number of clinical trials that are examining novel approaches to treatment of primary and recurrent ovarian cancer.

Women with a high risk of ovarian cancer can talk to their doctor about having their ovaries removed, even if they do not have any symptoms and all testing is negative for ovarian cancer. This risk-reducing procedure is called a prophylactic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. Women with a positive test for BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations may wish to explore this option with their physician.

Our multidisciplinary team meets regularly in  multidisciplinary conference to discuss your case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. The team may include your medical oncologistsurgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, geneticist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for each patient.

Patients are at the center of this multidisciplinary team, and Kellogg staff arrange for them to be seen by their multidisciplinary team at one appointment, not only for their convenience but to provide a consensus on their course of treatment. Our use of one of the most advanced Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems in the country enhances our open communication and promotes collaboration in our patient care.

Additional Patient Support

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine services, financial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 847.570.2639.