About 22,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and 15,000 will die from it. Treating this cancer has typically been a one-size-fits-all approach, until now. Now one woman is trying to change the face of this often deadly disease.
Helen Gardner surrounds herself with beautiful art. Her life was uprooted when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had chemo and surgery, but her cancer came back.
“Your life expectancy is less than five years,” said Gardner.
But she wasn’t ready to give up. Gardner found the Clearity Foundation, a nonprofit that offers hope for women like her.
“80% of people respond to traditional chemotherapy, but 80% of us recur,” said Laura Shawver, Ph.D., Founder of the Clearity Foundation.
Shawver, a cancer researcher and ovarian cancer survivor herself, says when this cancer recurs, treatment choices aren’t clear.
“Right now, it’s ‘pick out of a hat’ guesswork as to which one it will be,” explained Shawver. “I just think as a scientist, well, we can do better than that.”
The Foundation performs molecular profiling. Tumors are sent to labs and analyzed and patients are then provided treatment suggestions based on their tumor’s specific genetic make-up.
“We’re doing something that I feel the medical community and the insurance community should already be doing,” said Shawver.
Gardner found a trial testing a drug that matched her tumor’s profile. She had a second surgery, and while the future’s unknown, she remains hopeful.
“I’m getting ready to finish year four of those five years they gave me,” she said.
So far the Clearity Foundation has profiled the tumors of almost 300 women. The profiling can cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000. Insurance often covers the expense, but the Foundation will help pick up the tab for uninsured patients or those who cannot afford their co-pay.
Ovarian cancer is a concern for many women, especially those with family members that have had the disease. In ovarian cancer, the cancer begins in the ovaries but often spreads to the pelvis and abdomen. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often overlooked until it spreads, meaning many women do not start treatment until a later stage of the disease when the chances of survival are lower. Currently, efforts are being made to better detect and diagnose ovarian cancer in the early stages when treatment is more effective. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)
Signs: Another problem with detecting ovarian cancer early on is that many of the symptoms are similar to other, less serious ailments. Here are some signs that could indicate ovarian cancer:
- Pain or discomfort in the pelvis.
- Abdominal pressure, bloating, or swelling.
- Indigestion, gas, or nausea that continues to occur.
- Pain in the lower back.
Stop Ovarian Cancer Before it Starts: The exact cause behind the development of ovarian cancer is not known, but certain factors have been proven to increase women’s risk of the disease while other things can lower the risk. One of the strongest risk factors for ovarian cancer is a family history of the disease. Although women cannot change their genes, they can be tested for the BRCA mutations which are associated with a very high risk of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer. If a BRCA mutation is found, women can opt to have their ovaries surgically removed which lowers their risk for ovarian cancer by 85% to 95%, as well as lower their breast cancer risk by 50% to 60%. For those without the BRCA mutation or who want something less extreme than removing their ovaries, taking birth control pills has been shown to lower the risk of ovarian cancer. (Source: www.cancer.org) Ovarian cancer also strikes many women after menopause and individuals that have never had children have a higher risk of the disease as well. So, women should stay alert for any warning signs as they age, especially if they do not have children. (Source: www.mayoclinic.com)