Make Sure Your Physician Is Talking to You About These Three Topics

July 7, 2016

Most women in the United States don’t realize the level of influence they have on the healthcare industry today. As women, we not only go to the doctor more than men, but we also often manage the health of our entire family — making us an ideal set of consumers. And if we choose to, we could jump-start some pretty significant change in healthcare, specifically in the area of women’s health.

Yet we often overlook our own health or don’t demand the level of care we deserve because we’re so busy juggling our family’s needs. In doing so, we could be putting our very lives at risk. Certain diseases common to females such as ovarian cancer grow more difficult to treat the longer they go undetected. However, if we give our health the time and attention it (and we) deserve, it could result in some remarkable improvements to the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of such diseases — making an impact on women today and for generations to come.

Become an Agent of Your Own Health

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest gynecological cancer women currently face. It often goes undetected, is frequently misdiagnosed and/or mistreated, and there is still no known cure. As a result, 75 percent of ovarian cancer patients are diagnosed in advanced stages, when long-term survival rates are only between 17 and 35 percent.

You can contribute to an improved ovarian cancer detection, diagnosis, and treatment experience by advocating for better care from the start. If you’re concerned about or diagnosed with a pelvic mass, make sure your physician is addressing all of the following topics during your health evaluations:

1. Symptoms and red flags. The symptoms associated with ovarian cancer can be so common and nonspecific that they often fail to arouse concern in many women. Knowing the warning signs of ovarian cancer and mentioning any issues to your physician can be vital to early detection of the disease — when survival rates are still between 70 and 90 percent. If you experience recurring pelvic pain, bloating, urinary problems, or trouble eating multiple times throughout the month, consult your physician right away. And make sure she is aware of your family’s health history, especially regarding gynecological cancers, as genetic testing may aid in early detection or even prevention of ovarian cancer.

2. Expert physician referrals. Not all physicians are created equal when it comes to ovarian cancer. Only gynecologic oncologists are trained to accurately diagnose and stage (i.e., determine the amount of cancer in your body and its location) malignant pelvic masses. And having a gynecologic oncologist involved in pelvic mass cases from the beginning has been shown to improve survival rates by 23 percent. Yet two-thirds of women with pelvic masses still aren’t being referred to gynecologic oncologists.

If your physician suspects your pelvic mass may be malignant, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist immediately, especially before any procedures are done. Even a simple biopsy — which a non-specialized physician might suggest performing — can spread cancer cells throughout the pelvis, advancing the stage of the disease and affecting your prognosis, treatment, and outcome. Seek out a qualified gynecologic oncologist for the best care possible.

3. The latest medical developments. While there’s still no cure for ovarian cancer, some advancements have been made in how the disease is diagnosed and treated. Tools and tests like CA 125, OVA1, ROMA, Cellomics, multi-biomarker analytics, and ultrasound technology are helping physicians more accurately sort pelvic masses.

Additionally, scientific research is uncovering new ways to prevent or reduce the occurrence of ovarian cancer every day. For example, one recent study suggested that a certain form of cancer may actually originate in the fallopian tubes, not the ovaries. This information has allowed physicians to offer fallopian tube removal (for patients seeking tubal ligation) as an option for cancer prevention.

Still, early detection of ovarian cancer is one of the biggest hurdles physicians — and women — are facing today. Which is why paying attention to our bodies and responding to our health concerns in a timely manner is so important. The more ovarian cancer cases that are diagnosed early, the more information physicians and researchers will have about the disease, its causes, and how to prevent it in the future.

We’re all busy, but we can no longer afford to put our health on the back burner. If you have a health concern, consult a physician. If your physician brushes off your concerns without proper evaluation, seek a second opinion. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your doctor, find a new one. Stop making excuses, and start making time for your health — it could have a huge impact on your life and the lives of millions of other women.