In the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans across the country sheltered their homes, postponing important visits to doctor’s offices, medical centers, and even emergency rooms.
While it may have felt like the safest option at this point, experts fear that delaying preventative care could lead to negative health outcomes. It is important to continue taking care of your health and medical condition during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health has taken several steps to protect high-risk patients from COVID-19.
“Cancer doesn’t wait for COVID, and delaying treatment can put patients at higher risk,” says Dr. Bradford Whitcomb, director of gynecological oncology at the Carole & Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health.
Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, making treatment difficult; It kills approximately 14,000 women annually in the United States, more than any other gynecological cancer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women.
Unlike the Pap smear for early detection of cervical cancer or mammograms for breast cancer, there is no good screening test for ovarian cancer that has been shown to be effective, which makes ovarian cancer early detection a challenge.
When ovarian cancer first develops, it may not cause any noticeable symptoms. When symptoms occur, those symptoms are often attributed to other, more common conditions because the symptoms mimic many other health conditions.
Ovarian cancer signs and symptoms can span more than 2-3 weeks a month with:
- Bloating or swelling in the abdomen
- Quick feeling of fullness when eating
- Weight loss
- Pelvic discomfort
- Back pain
- Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
- A frequent need to urinate or urge to urinate
Your likelihood of developing ovarian cancer increases with age, with a mean age of 63 at diagnosis. You may be at an even higher risk if you have a family history of breast, ovarian, or other cancers, have never given birth, or haven’t taken birth control pills in a long time. It is important to see your general practitioner or gynecologist if you experience these symptoms, who will refer you to Dr. Whitcomb and his team can transfer.
Some ovarian cancers run in families. These cancers are called hereditary and are linked to inherited gene mutations. Hereditary ovarian cancer can develop earlier in life than non-inherited (sporadic) cases. Risk management decisions are very personal and the best option depends on many factors. It is important to discuss these options with your doctor if you have hereditary cancer syndrome.
Dr. Whitcomb reports that one of the biggest challenges in gynecological oncology is preventing ovarian cancer early and detecting it when it has not yet spread to other organs. Although there isn’t a good screening test for ovarian cancer, it is still important to have regular pelvic exams and to discuss persistent symptoms with your doctor. On the positive side, ovarian cancer patient survival has improved over the past three decades and major advances have been made in treatment.
Drs. Bradford Whitcomb, Molly Brewer and Jennifer Jorgensen and APRN Karen Metersky offer the most advanced, evidence-based treatment for ovarian cancer from time of diagnosis to surgery, post-operative chemotherapy and survival. Her goal is to provide the highest quality, empathetic, and personalized care that will result in long-term survival in an environment that provides all services to cancer survivors and their families.
The team approach includes genetic testing and a tumor board that reviews the patient’s case and makes several recommendations to help find the best treatment. In addition, the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center offers several support services, including palliative care, nutrition, social services, and access to other cancer specialists.
This diverse group has expertise in advanced surgical techniques, including laparoscopic, robotic and open surgical options. Once the ovarian cancer has been surgically removed, most patients will have four to five months of intravenous chemotherapy, and many will qualify for oral maintenance therapy afterward.
Dr. Whitcomb and his team take a personalized approach to treating cancer and offer a high level of specialized care. Dr. Whitcomb advises patients to have regular annual pelvic exams even during menopause as a preventative measure.
For more information on ovarian cancer and treatment options, visit the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health.