Genetic testing is key to early detection of ovarian cancer – Park Rapids Enterprise

According to the American Cancer Society, about 19,880 women this year will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and 12,810 women will die from it. It is the fifth most deadly cancer in women, and the deadliest that affects the female reproductive system.

For Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in September, University of Minnesota College of Medicine expert Colin Revard talks about the exact signs and risk factors for ovarian cancer.

Q: What is ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer is the second most common and deadliest female malignancy in the United States. It is a malignant tumor that arises from the ovary or fallopian tube.

There are three main types of ovarian cancer:

  • Germ cell tumors arise from the cells that give rise to eggs in the ovary.
  • Sarcomas arise from the supporting cells of the ovaries surrounding the eggs.
  • Epithelial neoplasms, the most common and by far the most lethal, which we will focus on today. Of the epithelial neoplasms, the most common are serous carcinomas, which we divide into low-grade and high-grade.

Q: What are the exact symptoms of ovarian cancer?

One of the biggest problems of ovarian cancer, and the reason it is so deadly, is that often there are no symptoms in the early stages, and by the time women have subtle symptoms, the cancer has already spread. The majority of ovarian cancers are diagnosed in the third and fourth stages – at which point treatment is very difficult.

The most common symptoms are abdominal symptoms, including pain, bloating or bloating, changes in appetite or early satiety, and changes in bowel or bladder habits. These symptoms are often nonspecific and can mimic other health conditions, such as gastrointestinal conditions, GERD, or urinary problems.

Q: What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer and the current treatment options available?

In general, the greatest risk factor for ovarian cancer is age, with the vast majority of epithelial tumors occurring in women 60 years of age or older.

Other risk factors include infertility, endometriosis, PCOS, absence, early menstruation or late menopause.

There are also several genetic mutations and syndromes associated with a significantly increased risk of ovarian cancer. These include hereditary breast syndrome, ovarian cancer and Lynch syndrome.

There are also a number of other genetic mutations that we know lead to an increased risk of ovarian cancer. In fact, these genetic mutations lead to the diagnosis of up to 25% of ovarian cancer cases, and therefore it is recommended that all women with ovarian cancer receive genetic counseling and testing. These mutations can also have an effect on the treatment a patient receives.

Currently, the mainstay of primary treatment for ovarian cancer is a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Unfortunately, in 85% of patients, the cancer will recur, and in these cases, the primary treatment is chemotherapy or enrollment in a clinical trial.

Q: If a person has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, what should they know about the diagnosis?

Diagnosing ovarian cancer can be very challenging for a patient, and I think it can be helpful to take diagnosis and treatment one step at a time. I think it is also important for the patient to have a lawyer who is either a family member or friend who can attend visits with them to help them remember and understand all the information being discussed. We also have the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (, which has great resources for patients, families, and caregivers. September is also National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and we just did the MOCA run/march to raise money for research into early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer.

Q: What are you doing in your research and practice to advance our understanding of ovarian cancer and patient relationships?

We have made many important discoveries in the treatment of ovarian cancer in the past 10 years, including PARP inhibitors and immunotherapy. We, as a department of gynecological oncology, are committed to accessing clinical trials and entering them into clinical trials, as this is the best way to improve outcomes for patients with ovarian cancer.

Colin Revard, MD, a gynecological oncologist at the U of M School of Medicine and M Health Fairview. She is also a member of the Masonic Cancer Center.

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