ovarian cancer

Facts about Ovarian Cancer Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Every 23 minutes, a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and one in 75 will develop the disease in their lifetime (source: National Cancer Institute). While most women are aware of their breast cancer risk, fewer are aware of their risk of ovarian cancer or the subtle early symptoms of the disease which often can be overlooked. The result is that women don’t seek help until the disease has begun to spread, making treatment more complex.

The most common ovarian cancer symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Urinary urgency
  • Nausea or indigestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight gain

Testing and Screening for Ovarian Cancer

Unlike Pap tests for cervical cancer and mammograms for breast cancer, there is no routine screening test for ovarian cancer. Researchers have discovered new information about how BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations can increase ovarian cancer risk. These are the same genes that are tested to determine the chance of developing breast cancer. Approximately 20 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have a hereditary tendency to develop the disease. Most of the time, these patients have a genetic mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

All women with ovarian cancer are recommended to undergo genetic testing to identify these gene mutations. The information can help determine a woman’s risk of developing other cancers, as well as provide insight into whether other family members can benefit from testing, too. In some cases, siblings and others within the family that also have tested positive for the gene mutation can undergo preventive treatment or additional screenings and surveillance.

Innovations in Ovarian Cancer Treatment

For women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, identified gene mutations may also play a part in determining the best treatment therapies. New research is providing guidance on how genes affect the biology of cancer growth, and targeted therapies are being developed to inhibit specific enzymes that contribute to cancers caused by mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2.

“Use of these inhibitors can slow progression of the disease and result in tremendous improvements in survival,” says Dr. Jill Suzanne Whyte, MD, Gynecologic Oncology, Obstetrics and Gynecology at North Shore University Hospital.

Another new approach to ovarian cancer treatment that is showing promise is the development of tumor vaccines that help the immune system recognize cancer cells and attack them as they grow. The man-made antibodies used in the vaccines are similar to those that fight infection.

The Importance of Ongoing Ovarian Cancer Research

“Because ovarian cancer remains the leading cause of gynecological cancer deaths in the United States, the need for ongoing research to discover better ways to identify, treat and prevent the disease is essential,” notes Dr. Whyte. Due to decreased public funding of ovarian cancer research, there has been a substantial reduction in clinical trials over the last several years. Support for research funding is necessary for advancements to continue to be made. For women who are diagnosed, it’s also important to ask about specific clinical trials.

Find out more about ovarian cancer prevention and treatment. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

cervical cancer screening

The Latest in Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention

In previous generations of women, cervical cancer was one of the most common causes of cancer death, but advancements in cervical cancer screening have dramatically changed this statistic. Over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased by more than 50 percent (source: American Cancer Society). The primary reason for the change? The increased use of the Pap test which can find cervical cancer in its most curable stages and even identify changes in the cervix prior to cancer developing.

Understanding Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

While cervical cancer screening was once routine as part of an annual well-woman exam, guidelines have changed through the years. Your age and health status now determine how often you need screening and which tests are recommended. Current guidelines are:

  • Age 21-29: Women have a Pap smear every three years
  • Age 30-65: Women have a Pap smear and HPV test (co-testing) every five years

For women with certain risk factors or symptoms, more frequent screening for cervical cancer may be suggested. It’s important to talk to your primary care doctor about the optimal cancer screening schedule for you, based on your health and family history.

“Healthcare is a partnership,” says Dr. Andrew Menzin, Chief, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Central Region Department of OB/GYN, Northwell Health. “In today’s healthcare setting, women need to be proactive about their health through dialog with their doctor and maintaining important records, such as Pap test results.”
It’s also essential to contact your doctor right away if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Discharge
  • Pelvic pain

Gynecologist or General Practitioner?

Many young women rely on their gynecologist as their facilitator of primary care. Those who do should mention this during their well-woman exams to ensure they receive other necessary screenings, such as for blood pressure, bone density, weight, cholesterol and emotional health.

As women get older, their gynecological needs evolve. Cervical cancer screening may be discontinued in some women at 65 years, and the gynecologist can help navigate the medical issues that occur as part of the transition into the menopausal years. Regular visits remain an important part of women’s health maintenance.

Strides in Cervical Cancer Prevention

It is a unique moment in medical history when a vaccine can help prevent the development of cancer. This is currently the case with the available vaccines to prevent infection by certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as many vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the throat and mouth).

The American Cancer Society recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys, starting at age 11 or 12. HPV vaccination is also recommended for females 13 to 26 and males 13 to 21 who have not already started the vaccines. Talk to your doctor for specific HPV vaccination recommendations for yourself or your child.

Find out more about cervical cancer prevention and treatment. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

What’s Your Hereditary Risk of Breast Cancer?

Genetic Testing for Breast Cancer – What You May Want To Know

Do you have a strong family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancer or an early cancer diagnosis yourself? If so, you may have a hereditary predisposition to cancer that puts you at greater risk of developing the disease. The first step in learning more about your possible risk of a hereditary cancer syndrome is to undergo genetic counseling.

Who Should Undergo Genetic Counseling?

You can benefit from genetic counseling if you have a personal or family history of the following:

  • Onset of cancer before the age of 50
  • Multiple new cancers in the same person
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Similar or related cancers in close relatives or family generations
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry and a personal or family history of breast, ovarian, pancreatic or prostate cancer

Genetic counseling and consideration of genetic testing may benefit individuals with and without a cancer diagnosis. If an analysis of your family history is suggestive of a hereditary cancer syndrome, genetic counseling may provide information that can benefit both you, your family members and future generations.

What to Expect

A consultation with a certified genetic counselor will help you understand the benefits, risk and limitations of genetic testing. However, it will not obligate you to pursue testing. Keep in mind that the information gained from genetic testing may help you and your relatives make informed decisions regarding cancer prevention and early detection.

While genetic testing consists simply of a sample of your blood or saliva, the issues surrounding genetic testing are more complicated. “The consequences of various results should be considered with the guidance and support of a genetic counselor,” says Nancy Cohen, MS, CGC (Certified Genetic Counselor), at Northern Westchester Hospital’s Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center. “Patients benefit from meeting with a counselor who reviews personal and family history, determines appropriate testing options and explains the recommendations for those found to have a hereditary predisposition to cancer.”

What If You Test Positive?

If test results show that you have hereditary cancer syndrome, knowing this information may help you and your relatives make informed decisions regarding cancer prevention and early detection. Your genetic counselor will discuss cancer surveillance and prevention options and any steps you may take to reduce cancer risk. The genetic counselor may also discuss the implications of the test results for your relatives and how to decrease the chance of a particular genetic condition occurring in future generations. Your physician can then work with you to create a cancer surveillance and/or risk reduction plan specifically for you.

Katz Institute for Women’s Health is here to answer your questions about genetic counseling and testing for breast cancer risk. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

Breast Cancer Detection & Treatment

While breast cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death in females, significant advances in detection and treatment are helping women of all ages.

  • Early Detection
  • Approximately 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are found initially by women who feel a lump, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. One of the most important strategies a women can take when it comes to breast cancer detection is to perform monthly self-exams. Along with self-exams, screening tests remain vital to finding breast cancer when the chances of survival are at their highest. These tests include clinical breast exams, mammography and breast MRI for some women who are at higher risk or as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding. Earlier this year, Medicare approved coverage for tomosynthesis, also called 3D mammogram. This powerful tool enables doctors to obtain a more accurate view compared to digital mammography to better identify locations, sizes and shapes of abnormalities. “With 3D mammogram, we’re able to view breast tissue like pages of a book,” says Dr. Karen Kostroff, Chief of Breast Surgery at North Shore-LIJ Health System. “This is helping us to improve breast cancer detection rates and decrease patient call backs, which is extremely beneficial.”
  • Improvements in Genetic Testing
  • Approximately five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are a result of a gene mutation inherited from a parent. Inherited mutations in two human genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for approximately 20 to 25 percent of hereditary breast cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. Harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can be inherited from either a person’s mother or father, and each child of a parent who carries the mutation has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. “Genetic testing is becoming increasingly common as we learn more about how heredity impacts breast cancer risk,” says Dr. Kostroff. “Currently, there are several screening tools and tests available to look for specific mutations in genes. It’s important for women to talk to their doctor to determine if genetic counseling or testing could be beneficial.”
  • Surgical Options
  • Between 60 and 75 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer opt for a lumpectomy over a full mastectomy. It is less disfiguring and often has similar survival rates when combined with radiation. One of the primary risks of a lumpectomy has been needing a second surgery to remove more of the cancer or surrounding tissue. However, with advances in preoperative therapies and techniques used during surgery to determine the outer edges (margins) of cancerous tissue, the risk of requiring a second surgery has been greatly reduced.
  • Radiation
  • There are also new radiation recommendations for breast cancer treatment. The typical course of treatment used to be six to seven weeks, but new research has shown that three weeks of radiation offers the same level of benefits with fewer side effects.
  • Chemotherapy
  • For many women who require chemotherapy as part of their breast cancer treatment, hair loss is one of the most difficult side effects. Researchers have discovered that cooling the scalp during chemo treatments can make it harder for cancer-fighting drugs to damage hair follicles. Using a tight-fitting cap that is cold enough to numb the scalp is helping to minimize hair loss in some cancer patients. Although there has not yet been FDA approval for cold caps, there are a number of products now on the market using this innovative technology.
  • Reconstruction
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomies are also becoming increasingly performed on women who have no sign of cancer in the skin or near the nipple. The advantage of this procedure is that the breast can look virtually unchanged and intact, which can improve self-esteem and self-body image. “Nipple-sparing mastectomy has helped patients that still need a mastectomy achieve the most incredibly natural result with one less operation to get to that endpoint,” according to Dr. Kostroff.

Thanks in large part to the many advances in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, survival rates for this complex disease that strikes one in eight women are improving. Through the combined proactive efforts of researchers, healthcare providers and women, we can all look forward to a future of fewer diagnosed cases, better outcomes and more long-term survivors. Do you want to learn more about breast cancer detection and treatment? Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-KIWH (5494) to speak with a women’s health specialist.