Colleen Rivard, MD, a gynecologic oncologist with University of Minnesota Physicians (M Physicians), has specialized in ovarian cancer throughout her career. In Minnesota, approximately 10% of women have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
Dr. Rivard shared that one of the biggest challenges of ovarian cancer is how difficult it is to identify at the early stages.
“By the time women develop subtle symptoms, the cancer has already spread,” she said. “The majority of ovarian cancers are diagnosed at stages three and four — at which point it is very challenging to cure.”
There are three different types of ovarian cancer: germ cell tumors, stromal tumors and epithelial tumors. Epithelial tumors are the most common and also the most dangerous.
Another challenge to ovarian cancer is the many risk factors. Dr. Rivard believes that it is important for women to understand the various predispositions for a better knowledge of their health.
“In general, the biggest risk factor for ovarian cancer is age with the vast majority of epithelial tumors arising in women age 60 and older,” Dr. Rivard said. “Other risk factors include infertility, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, nulliparity, early menarche or late menopause.”
Genetic mutations and syndromes can predispose women to ovarian cancer as well. Genetic counseling and testing are recommended for all women who receive a diagnosis.
Ovarian cancer is treated through surgery and chemotherapy. Eighty-five percent of patients in remission will, unfortunately, experience a recurrence of cancer in their bodies. Dr. Rivard shared that in those cases it is common for women to go through chemotherapy again or attempt to join a clinical trial.
“An ovarian cancer diagnosis is incredibly overwhelming to a patient,” Dr. Rivard said. “I think it can be helpful to take the diagnosis and treatment one step at a time. It is also very important for a patient to have an advocate who is either a family member or friend who can attend visits with them to help them to remember and understand all the information that is discussed.”