Empowering Women: Spreading Awareness about Ovarian Cancer and Gynecologic Oncology Services
Ovarian cancer, often referred to as the "silent killer," is a formidable adversary that affects thousands of women worldwide. As September marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, it's crucial to shed light on this disease and the vital role that the gynecologic oncology services at Intermountain Health, formerly known as SCL Health in Montana, play in early detection and treatment.
Understanding Ovarian Cancer
Ovarian cancer arises when abnormal cells develop in the ovaries, the reproductive glands in women. This cancer is particularly challenging to detect in its early stages due to the absence of noticeable symptoms. As a result, it often goes undiagnosed until it has progressed to advanced stages. However, being informed about potential risk factors and understanding the importance of regular check-ups can aid in early detection and improved outcomes.
These factors can increase your risk of ovarian cancer:
· Age. Most cases of ovarian cancer happen in women after menopause.
· Family history or breast, ovarian, or colorectal cancer. The risk of ovarian cancer is greater for women who have a parent or sibling who has had ovarian cancer. Women who inherited a mutation (change) in the genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 have a greater risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
· Inherited gene mutations. Women who have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, as well as some others, have a greater risk of ovarian cancer.
· Hormone replacement therapy. Women who take estrogen or progesterone therapy after menopause are at slightly greater risk for developing ovarian cancer.
· Obesity. Women who have a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or higher have a greater risk of ovarian cancer.
· History of endometriosis. Endometriosis occurs when tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus.
Ovarian cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms in its earliest stages. When symptoms do occur, they include:
· Bloating or feeling full
· Getting full quickly or not being able to eat much at a time
· Pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen (belly)
· Feeling like you have to pee more than usual
· Vaginal bleeding that is heavy or happens when it is not expected, especially after menopause
These symptoms can happen for other reasons, too. But if they don’t go away and are a noticeable change from the way you usually feel, contact your doctor.
“As women get older, they are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer,” said Dr Elizabeth Connor, MD, gynecologic oncologist. “Understanding your family history and sharing that information with your provider is important. In some cases, genetic testing may be considered to understand your risk.”
Gynecologic Oncology Services: A Lifeline
Gynecologic oncology is a specialized field that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of cancers affecting the female reproductive system, including ovarian cancer. The dedicated professionals at Intermountain Health possess extensive expertise in managing complex cases and tailor treatment plans to individual patients. From minimally invasive surgical interventions to advanced chemotherapy options, gynecologic oncologists play a pivotal role in providing comprehensive care that addresses the unique needs of each patient.
Advancing Treatment and Therapies
The field of gynecologic oncology is continuously evolving, with ongoing research and advancements in treatment modalities. From targeted therapies to immunotherapies, the landscape of ovarian cancer treatment is becoming more precise and effective.
Intermountain Health offers a full-time program based out of Billings with three well-known, local physicians dedicated to delivering comprehensive and compassionate care to every patient.
The team provides gynecologic cancer care for all types and in all stages, including:
· Cervical cancer
· Endometrial and uterine cancer
· Ovarian cancer
· Vaginal cancer
· Vulvar cancer
The Gynecologic Oncology providers at Intermountain Health have a clinic and surgical practice in Billings, and outreach across the region. The clinic is at Intermountain Health West End Clinic on Shiloh Road. Infusions and radiation oncology services are provided at the St. Vincent Healthcare Cancer Centers of Montana.
To schedule an appointment, or to learn more about gynecologic oncology services, talk to your provider, or contact the Gynecologic Oncology Clinic at 406-901-2440.