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Regional Cancer Center

Ovarian Cancer Difficult to Detect and Treat

Ovarian Cancer Difficult to Detect and Treat  In 1991 when Anne Nelson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she had never heard of the disease. Fast forward to 2013, and Anne is all-too-familiar with her diagnosis.

After undergoing a hysterectomy and chemotherapy treatment 20 years ago, physicians gave Anne a clean bill of health, but in 2008, her cancer returned. “I didn’t know it could come back,” Anne says. “I take a CA-125 test each year so I wasn’t expecting anything.” CA-125 is a test that physicians use to find and “mark” cancer.

The chemotherapy Anne received in 1991 was not a pleasant experience. She did not receive any anti-nausea medication and was very sick. She said that the current treatments are much more tolerable, thanks to new medications that greatly reduce the side effects of chemo.

She is nearing the end of another round of chemo, but not her fight with cancer. “My goal right now is just to get through this,” Anne says. “I attend a support group and that really helps because you realize you’re not the only one. There are so many treatments and surgeries available. I’m fortunate that I’m still able to go to the support group and get out and do things.”

Gynecologic oncologist, James Orr, M.D., treats Anne for what is the second most common gynecologic cancer. Cervical cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer.

“More women die from ovarian cancer than all other gynecologic cancers combined,” Dr. Orr says. “One of the main reasons is that there is no specific test for this cancer and the first symptoms are nonspecific.”

Symptoms can include:

  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Frequent urination

“We don’t really understand the true history of ovarian cancer,”

Dr. Orr explains. “It’s called the ‘silent killer’ because only about 10-15 percent of women learn they have it in stage 1, when it’s confined to the ovaries. About 75 percent have stage 3 or 4 when they are diagnosed. The sooner we can detect it, the better the odds of survival.”

Most women who receive the diagnosis are in their late 60s but the disease can strike much earlier. Anne was in her early 50s when she learned about her cancer. “Twenty years ago, this was a potential death sentence,” Dr. Orr says. “Now, with the right surgery and chemotherapy, we’ve increased the survival rate to about 60 percent.”

Dr. Orr says he will continue treating Anne with the best drugs available for this type of cancer. “I strive to care for the total woman,” he says. “Our goal is to treat all of the physiologic and psychological aspects of the disease. We involve everyone on the team, including her family, and when we put together a plan on how to deal with the cancer, that’s a win.”

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“My goal right now is just to get through this, ” Anne says. “I attend a support group and that really helps because you realize you’re not the only one.”


Ovarian Cancer Markers

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Visit Lee Memorial Health System on Vimeo

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James Orr, M.D.
Florida Gynecologic Oncology
8931 Colonial Center Drive
Suite 400
Fort Myers, FL 33905
239-334-6626

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