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Ovarian Cancer

What You Need To Know

Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries. The ovaries are a pair of reproductive glands located on each side of the uterus and are the main source of female hormones. Unlike breast cancer or cervical cancer, which can be detected by mammograms and pap tests, there is no formal screening exam for ovarian cancer. Signs and symptoms most commonly associated with ovarian cancer are often not specific to the disease itself and can be mistaken for other health problems. This is why you should check with your doctor if you are experiencing the following symptoms on a persistent basis:

  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Constant indigestion
  • Gas or nausea
  • Constipation or frequent urination, a change in bathroom habits
  • Abdominal pressure, feeling full or bloated, clothes fitting tighter around the waste and stomach
  • Little or no appetite
  • Constantly tired, very little energy
  • Lower back pain

If you are experiencing these symptoms, your doctor may perform a thorough physical exam, various blood tests, and/or a transvaginal ultrasound to confirm the possibility of ovarian cancer.

Every year around 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The majority of the women diagnosed are over 40 years old, with the most cases occurring in women 60 or older. Unfortunately, the majority of ovarian cancers are detected at an advanced stage due to the difficulty in effectively screening ovarian cancer. However, treatment is very effective when it is found in the early stages.

Like other cancers, there are various factors that affect your chances of developing ovarian cancer. Possible ovarian cancer risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Diet
  • Smoking and Alcohol Abuse

There are various factors that may reduce a woman’s chances of developing ovarian cancer. Although ovarian cancer is not 100% preventable, the following factors may prevent the disease:

  • Pregnancy/Breast Feeding
  • Use of Birth Control Pills
  • Gynecologic Surgery (tubal ligation or hysterectomy)

What We Can Do To Help

Whether you are looking to prevent or treat ovarian cancer, or simply gain a greater understanding of the risks, we are here to help. St. John Providence physicians provide information and screening techniques for those inquiring about the disease. For those already diagnosed, our physicians are trained to help patients choose the most effective options in treating ovarian cancer. We provide comprehensive treatments in the form of medical therapies and surgical solutions, in addition to providing ongoing post-cancer care. Our range of services includes:

It is important to determine and identify ovarian cancer as soon as possible. A St. John Providence specialist can help identify possible cancerous masses in the pelvic area in the following ways:

  • Biopsy: The doctor will retrieve and test a sample of tissue to determine whether or not it cancerous. The biopsy can be conducted during a laparoscopy (see below) or by inserting a needle into the tumor through the abdomen.
  • Laparoscopy: A thin lighted tube is inserted into the lower abdomen which retrieves images of the ovaries and pelvic organs.
  • Imaging Tests: Other imaging tests to help identify uterine cancer may include ultrasound, ultrasound, CT Scan, MRI, Barium Enema X-Ray, and PET scan.

  • To determine how far the cancer has spread, your cancer care team uses a process of analysis known as staging. The stage of your cancer impacts your treatment and the prognosis for recovery. A number of different staging systems can be used to classify tumors.

    The TNM staging system assesses tumors in three ways: size of the primary tumor (T), whether it has spread to lymph nodes (N), and whether it has spread (metastasized) to other organs (M). Once the T, N, and M are determined, a number of I, II, III, or IV is assigned, with stage I being early stage and IV being advanced.

    In general, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV, denotes a more serious case. Your doctor will review your test results and tell you the stage of your cancer.

    The main treatments for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. Depending on your case, one or all treatments will be used. A St. John Providence physician will talk you through your surgical options. Although removing the uterus is one surgical option, it may not be the best if you still wish to have more children and have detected ovarian cancer in its early stages. Our Treatment options include:

    Surgical Treatment:

    • Hysterectomy
    • Tumor Reduction

    Medical Therapy Treatment:

    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation Treatment
    • Hormone Therapy

    As part of our Center for Excellence in Cancer Care, St. John Providence utilizes cutting edge technology and the most innovative surgical procedures to treat cancer. In addition to the traditional surgical procedures noted above, our esteemed physicians also perform the following procedures:

    Surgery using the daVinci Robot

    Robert Morris, M.D., and Leigh Ann Solomon, M.D. are trained and experienced in using the daVinci® robot to make gynecologic surgery easier and more effective for women. Making tiny, 1-2 centimeter incisions and using specialized techniques along with the daVinci robot, they can perform precise surgeries with less pain, fewer complications and minimal scarring. Patients typically have shorter hospital stays and return to normal activities quicker than with traditional approaches. DaVinci surgeries include:

    • Simple and radical hysterectomies
    • Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
    • Lymph node dissections (for cancer staging)

    Minimally Invasive Procedures

    • Hysteroscopy (used to diagnose and treat infertility and heavy bleeding, or to remove fibroids or polyps)
    • Laparascopy (used to diagnose and treat fibroids, tumors, and conditions such as endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy or pelvic inflammatory disease)

    Specialized Surgical Solutions

    • Fertility sparing procedures for early stage cervical cancer
    • Pelvic reconstruction for advanced gynecologic cancer

    The St. John Providence oncology team is here to support you on your road to recovery. Our goal is to help you attain a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, our treatment goes beyond surgeries and medical therapies. Your follow-up care can also include other services, including:

    • The Healing Arts Center
    • Support Groups
    • Treating cancer alone is not the only item on our agenda. At St. John Providence, our patients’ long-term health is our priority as well. Following treatment, our dedicated team will provide ongoing gynecological care to endure your health and well-being. These services may include annual exams and screenings and family planning.

    We Have More to Learn

    Although we offer the most advanced care for women in an award-winning hospital, our job of curing cancer is not yet done. At St. John Providence, we are proactively researching and experimenting new ways to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer. Click Here to learn more about Ovarian Cancer Clinical Trials currently underway at St. John Providence.

    For more general information about our research efforts, Click Here to read about the clinical trials and research initiatives at our hospitals.


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    Get in touch with us so we can learn about you and give you the help you need for your individual situation.

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