Comprehensive Care for Ovarian Cancer
Numerous studies have shown that ovarian cancer patients experience better surgical outcomes and higher survival rates when a gynecologic oncologist coordinates their care. At the University of Chicago Medicine, these highly trained experts are board-certified in obstetrics/gynecology as well as gynecologic oncology. Our multidisciplinary corps of specialists in ovarian cancer care has one common goal: To improve the care of patients with ovarian cancer. This team includes:
- Gynecologic oncologists
- Medical oncologists
- Abdominal surgeons
- Radiologists with special experience in evaluating ovarian tumors and tumor extent
- Pathologists with special experience in diagnosing ovarian tumors
- Genetic counselors
- Gynecologists, including reproductive endocrinologists
- Radiation oncologists
- Nurses, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, social workers, nutritionists and physical therapists
Before beginning treatment, each patient is walked through the assessment process by a coordinator who assists patients with services such as:
- Obtaining records, especially laboratory results, X-ray and imaging scans, and pathology slides
- Coordinating studies and results
- Coordinating surgery
- Assessing eligibility for clinical trials
- Information and education
- Communication with referring physicians
- Psychosocial and emotional support
- Translation services
The most important part of your visit to the University of Chicago Medicine is your interaction with our team. Because we believe that close communication among all caregivers is essential to successful treatment, we collaborate closely with your primary and referring physicians throughout your treatment.
Ovarian cancer is rare; 12 out of every 100,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. While the median age is 63, young women also can be affected. The term ovarian cancer applies to three related cancers based on the probable site of origin: fallopian tube, peritoneal and ovarian.
The signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer are subtle and nonspecific. In many cases, symptoms go unnoticed until the disease has spread. Symptoms may include:
- Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating; feeling full
- Gas, bloating or constipation
- Swelling in the abdomen
- Bladder pressure, frequent urination
- Weight loss
Diagnosis of ovarian cancer often begins with a pelvic exam, blood tests and a transvaginal ultrasound -- an imaging procedure used to detect tumors in the ovaries. If cancer is suspected, a surgical biopsy of the tumor or surgery to remove or “debulk” the tumor is often necessary. Our pathologists, nationally known experts in gynecologic pathology, examine biopsied tumor cells under high-resolution microscopes to determine the correct diagnosis, which will then guide treatment.
Additional imaging tests may be recommended to determine spread of the disease. Advanced imaging capabilities at the University of Chicago Medicine include: magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWI), computed tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET) and interventional radiology (image-directed biopsies and procedures). Expert radiologists, who have extensive experience in reading these imaging studies, confer with the gynecologic oncology team.
Significant expertise is necessary to design the best treatment plan for ovarian cancer. Here, every patient’s case is reviewed at the Multidisciplinary Gynecologic Oncology Tumor Board. This meeting brings together physicians in gynecologic oncology, medical oncology pathology, and radiology to evaluate cases, discuss treatment options and jointly plan the most effective course of treatment for each patient.
Therapy for ovarian cancer depends on the grade of the tumor and the location (stage) of the disease. Initial treatment usually involves surgery or chemotherapy. In all cases, we take an aggressive approach to treating ovarian cancer, tailored to the needs of the individual.
Surgery is often recommended for women with ovarian cancer, especially those with advanced disease. Prior to surgery, our anesthesiologists meet with patients to discuss anesthesia during surgery and pain control after the procedure.
Whenever possible, our gynecologic oncologists use minimally invasive surgical techniques, including laparoscopic and robot-assisted surgery, to stage patients with early disease. For patients with metastatic disease, removing all visible disease in the abdomen (referred to as cytoreduction or debulking) has proven to enhance the effectiveness of chemotherapy. Surgery may include the removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovarian masses as well as the appendix and segments of the bowel, peritoneum (tissue that surrounds the abdominal organs) and omentum (a fat pad that covers the bowel). Planning and performing these surgeries takes specialized expertise.
Chemotherapy for patients with advanced ovarian cancer may be administered through a combination of methods:
- Intravenous (IV) chemotherapy -- through a vein into the bloodstream
- Intraperitoneal (IP) chemotherapy -- directly into the abdominal, or peritoneal cavity
Our trained chemotherapy nurses are highly skilled in delivering chemotherapy and in symptom management. As regional experts in intraperitoneal chemotherapy, our nurses regularly teach this method to other nurses in the area.
The University of Chicago Medicine is actively involved in clinical trials designed to improve on current chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.
Cancer treatment may affect the ability to become pregnant. Our gynecologic oncologists take this into account for each and every patient and proactively work to address these concerns. Our reproductive endocrinologists have special expertise in fertility preservation for cancer patients. We offer embryo and egg freezing (cryopreservation) as well as other strategies to preserve fertility before undergoing treatment. »Learn more about our reproductive endocrinology services.
Radiotherapy is occasionally used for isolated sites of recurrent disease. Our radiation oncologists are experts in delivering focused radiation therapy to metastatic disease that is not widespread.