The Future of Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis is Now – Through These Four Strategies

June 24, 2016

This article was originally published on HealthWorksCollective.

So much about ovarian cancer is shrouded in mystery, from causes to early detection to effective treatments. That’s why nearly 75 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are in advanced stages, leaving their long-term survival rates between 17 and 35 percent. And a cure has still not been found. However, if physicians change the way they approach the disease now, it could create a significantly different picture in 10 years.

How Doctors Can Improve Ovarian Cancer Diagnosis

Physicians can improve the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of ovarian cancer now and in the future by applying these strategies:

1. Refer patients earlier to gynecologic oncologists. The most important change physicians can make is referring patients to gynecologic oncologists as soon as masses are discovered. Only those oncologists are trained to diagnose and stage malignant pelvic masses, especially during the early stages when survival rates are still as high as 70 to 90 percent. Today, two-thirds of women aren’t being referred to these specialists, who can improve patient survival rates by 23 percent.

2. Better educate physicians and patients. Education is critical to earlier detection and higher survival rates. Physicians and patients need to be aware of early warning signs — such as recurring pelvic pain, bloating, and urinary problems — and genetic predispositions that might require additional testing. Physicians must also know how to handle pelvic masses once they’re discovered. For example, doctors should avoid performing biopsies on potentially malignant pelvic masses because the procedure can allow cancerous cells to spread throughout the pelvic and abdominal cavities, progressing a Stage I case to a Stage II or III case.

3. Apply new preventive measures. The more physicians apply new approaches to preventing, diagnosing, and treating ovarian cancer, the more likely they’ll bring about positive change. For example, recent research has suggested that one type of ovarian cancer might originate in the fallopian tube, not the ovary. So, in some cases, removal of the fallopian tubes (rather than tubal ligation) could reduce or prevent the occurrence of cancer. Over the long term, new tactics could completely alter the prevalence and treatment of the disease.

4. Use the latest tools, tech, and tests. The slow advancement of accurate and innovative tools, tests, and technologies to detect and diagnose ovarian cancer is one of the biggest challenges physicians face today. Just by utilizing the tools that are currently available, such as CA 125, OVA1, ROMA, ultrasounds, and multi-biomarker analytics, physicians can more easily sort pelvic masses and get patients the care they need. In turn, doing so will propel research and lead to improved early-detection methods.

Significant improvements to the way ovarian cancer is screened, diagnosed, and treated are at our fingertips. These four strategies, however, will put them in our palms. As a result, the mothers, daughters, friends, and relatives facing ovarian cancer diagnoses will benefit right now. And a decade from now, ovarian cancer will no longer be shrouded in mystery.

Dr. Judy Wolf is the chief medical officer at Vermillion, Inc. She received her medical degree from the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Medicine, and her clinical and research interests are in gynecologic cancers, specifically ovarian cancer.