Ovarian cancer is a disease that can masquerade as dozens of common maladies in its early stages.
To complicate matters even more, there's no simple and reliable test to screen for ovarian cancer. As a result, this is the most deadly of gynecologic cancers and is often discovered in its advanced stages.
Although a physical exam coupled with ultrasound and other tests can be useful in detecting ovarian abnormalities, only exploratory surgery can confirm the presence and extent of the disease. At the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute (TCI) at Long Beach Memorial, surgery is performed using advanced techniques, including robotic assisted technology when appropriate.
"Ovarian cancer isn't a single entity," says Long Beach Memorial gynecologic oncologist Philip Di Saia, M.D., a world-renowned expert in cancer of the female reproductive system. "There are 30 known subtypes of the disease. Each requires a unique treatment plan and responds differently to various kinds of chemotherapy." The subtype is identified through biopsies performed during exploratory surgery. Combined with information about how far the disease has progressed, the subtype helps determine the treatment that will follow. "Most ovarian cancer patients have a hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy," says Dr. Di Saia. "But removal of only the ovaries is sufficient for some young women in the early stages of the disease." These are critical decisions that require expert guidance. Several studies have shown patients live longer and better if they're treated by a gynecologic oncologist rather than another type of specialist.
Long Beach Memorial's gynecologic oncology program treats four times as many patients as the average California hospital and ranks in the top four in the nation for patient access to clinical trials for ovarian, cervical and uterine cancers. "Having an ovarian cancer program of this stature close to home is an incalculable benefit for women in the Long Beach community," says Di Saia. The hospital's membership in national cooperatives, including the Gynecologic Oncology Group, gives patients access to treatments not available elsewhere. One study currently underway involves the use of an advanced hyperthermia machine to combat ovarian cancer. During treatment, the patient's body tissue is heated to 104 degrees Farenheit. "The combination of heat, irradiation and chemotherapy may be an important tool for the treatment of ovarian cancer," says Dr. Di Saia. At the heart of Long Beach Memorial's ovarian cancer program is multidisciplinary care. A TCI committee composed of several experts meets weekly to discuss treatment options for patients. Their multidisciplinary recommendations embody the team approach, giving each woman the broadest range of therapy choices possible.
How can you protect yourself against ovarian cancer? "Although the disease has been described as a silent killer, four symptoms are more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than others," says Dr. Di Saia. "They include abdominal bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating, and urinary frequency or urgency. Women with symptoms that persist for several weeks should see their gynecologist."
Patients with a family history of ovarian cancer, as well as those of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, are at higher risk for developing the disease. The Cancer Risk and Prevention Program at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute provides genetic consultation and testing to determine an individual's probability of developing ovarian cancer and other diseases.
TEAM SPIRIT 10K WALK
Want to help in the fight against this dreaded disease? You're invited to help raise funds for TCI's breast and ovarian treatment programs at the annual Long Beach Memorial Team Spirit Breast and Ovarian Cancer 10K Walk.