Health Care

Ovarian Cancer: Genetic Testing May Offer Earlier Diagnosis

A Woman Playing Tennis Looks Across the Tennis Court as She Prepares to Return a Voley.

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Tennis legend Chris Evert recently revealed that she is battling stage 1C ovarian cancer. The 67-year-old tennis legend, who has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and three Grand Slam doubles titles during her career, opened up about her diagnosis on social media:

“I wanted to share my stage 1 ovarian cancer diagnosis and the story behind it as a way to help others. I feel very lucky that they caught it early and expect positive results from my chemo plan,” Evert wrote.

We’re here to provide insight into the importance of catching cancers, like ovarian cancer, early with input from Dr. Nathalie McKenzie, an expert gynecologic oncologist at AdventHealth Cancer Institute.

Ovarian Cancer Survival Rate is High with Early Diagnosis

According to Dr. McKenzie, “Ovarian cancer is the deadliest type of cancer to affect a woman’s reproductive system — but if it’s caught early enough, it doesn’t have to be. Of the women whose ovarian cancer is spotted early, 92% survive for more than five years. If the cancer isn’t found until after it spreads, the survival rate drops to 30%.”

Chris Evert’s story speaks to the value of early diagnosis, with genetic testing in her case. She was diagnosed last month after having a preventive hysterectomy. She scheduled the procedure after genetic testing discovered she was at increased risk for ovarian cancer.

A malignant tumor was noted on her fallopian tube that led to surgery and chemotherapy treatment. The cancer was not detected anywhere else in her body, she explained.

Know Your Own Risks

“Being aware of our own bodies, health history and family health patterns is key to better outcomes when it comes to a cancer diagnosis,” Dr. McKenzie explains. “Make sure you’re paying attention; our bodies alert us when something is wrong.”

In Chris Evert’s case, her sister, Jeanne, died at age 62 from ovarian cancer in 2020 after being diagnosed with a later stage of the illness. With that knowledge, Evert was prompted to be tested and found that she had the same pathogenic variant of the BRCA1 gene as her sister. The BRCA1 gene variant is a marker that helps detect one’s risk for ovarian and breast cancers.

Here are the risk factors to be aware of for ovarian cancer:

1. Age: The odds of developing ovarian cancer increase over time. Women ages 63 and older account for half of all ovarian cancer cases.

2. Obesity: For women, a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher is considered obese. These women may have a higher risk than women with lower BMIs.

3. Family history: Your risk is higher if you have a first-degree relative — a daughter, sister or mother — who has had ovarian cancer. The more relatives you have with this cancer, the higher your risk. A history of the disease in family members on your father’s side is also linked to a higher risk. A family history of breast or colorectal cancer has also been associated with an increased risk for ovarian cancer. Women who have a family history of breast cancer sometimes opt to get checked for an inherited defect in their BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The defect in either gene is linked to a high risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

4. Personal history: Women who have had colorectal, uterine or breast cancer may face a higher risk for ovarian cancer than those who have not had one of these other cancers.

5. Pregnancy: Women who have their first full-term pregnancy after age 35 or never give birth have a higher risk. In fact, the more children women have, the less apt they are to get ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding may also lower your risk.

6. Medications: According to some evidence, estrogen-only hormone therapy after menopause may raise your risk.

“These risk factors may increase the risk of ovarian cancer, but they are also commonly flagged in various other health conditions. Any one of these by themselves does not necessarily increase the risk of ovarian cancer,” explains Dr. McKenzie. “But everyone should be vigilant for risk factors and symptoms.”

Know Ovarian Cancer Warning Signs

Treatment is most effective when ovarian cancer is detected early. Symptoms are often vague and may not show up until later stages of cancer. Easy-to-overlook warning signs may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Back pain
  • Belly swelling with weight loss
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Stomach discomfort, such as pain or bloating

“If any of these symptoms are not normal for you and last for more than two weeks, talk to your provider,” says Dr. McKenzie. “The bottom line in spotting any cancer of the reproductive system is knowing your body and what is and isn’t normal for you.”

Hope for Wholeness Begins Here

Find the expert, compassionate care you need to overcome reproductive cancers with the best tools available at AdventHealth Cancer Institute. Ours is among the top oncology programs in the country with outcomes that exceed the national average in treating ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, vulvar cancer and vaginal cancer. You don’t have to go through this alone, and we’re with you every step of the way. Visit us here.

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