Making progress against ovarian cancer, the “silent killer”

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September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month — and thanks to research, happening at UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute, more women with ovarian cancer have an improved prognosis due to newer therapies and better surgical techniques.

For decades the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer was about 20 percent, but in recent years it’s crept up to about 50 percent, says Richard Moore, M.D., leader of the Gynecologic Oncology Program and Targeted Therapeutics Laboratory for Gynecologic Cancers at Wilmot.

He aims to turn ovarian cancer into a treatable, chronic disease. A full range of clinical trial options for early stage, late stage, and recurrent cancer is available at Wilmot, with the goal of boosting survivorship and paving the way for improved standard therapies in the future. Having treatment options at all stages of the disease is important because the vast majority of women are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread, putting a cure out of reach.

Ovarian cancer is often called a "silent killer” because of vague symptoms and a lack of widely available screening. Here are some signs that should not be ignored, especially when they persist:

  • Gas or bloating
  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Feeling full quickly after eating
  • Vaginal discharge or abnormal bleeding
  • Urgency to urinate frequently

Other symptoms can include fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, pain during sex, constipation, or menstrual changes.

Wilmot offers the largest portfolio of clinical trials for ovarian cancer in the Rochester region. Many patients travel from around the state to take part in studies that evaluate targeted therapies, which work differently than chemotherapy, by blocking or pinpointing certain genes or enzymes associated with cancer growth.

Moore’s research lab is investigating several aspects of ovarian cancer, including how tumor cells circulate in the blood of women who have a pelvic mass. He helped to develop a Food and Drug Administration-approved blood test to distinguish between ovarian cysts and cancerous legions quickly. He also identified a gene, HE4, that’s released by ovarian cancer cells; an HE4 test monitors how patients are responding to treatment. Additional research led by Rachael Turner, M.D., Ph.D., is focused on finding therapies that harness the immune system to keep ovarian cancer at bay.

To learn more about ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor or visit the Wilmot Cancer Institute online: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/cancer-institute/cancers/ovarian.aspx, or the American Cancer Society at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovarian-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html.

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