Are you concerned that you might be at risk for ovarian cancer? When your general practitioner (GP) suspects the possibility of ovarian cancer, a series of diagnostic steps are set in motion to provide clarity and the best treatment for your health. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through the stages of diagnosis and potential treatments.
If your GP has suspicions, they may recommend a CA125 blood test. This test measures the specific levels of protein that ovarian cancer cases can sometimes elevate. However, it’s important to note that elevated CA125 levels can also occur due to reasons unrelated to cancer.
In addition to the blood test, your GP may suggest an ultrasound examination of your abdomen and pelvis. There are two types of ultrasounds to consider:
If the initial tests suggest the possibility of ovarian cancer, your GP should promptly refer you to a specialist gynaecological oncologist, a medical professional with expertise in treating cancer patients. Within 31 days of suspicion, you should receive a confirmed diagnosis.
At your first hospital appointment with the specialist, you will receive a comprehensive explanation of the next steps. Depending on your case, the medical team may perform additional tests, such as MRI or CT scans, and another CA125 blood test if they haven’t done previously.
Before your second appointment, a multidisciplinary team (MDT) comprising specialist gynaecological cancer surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, and pathologists will review your test results. They will collectively determine the most suitable treatment options for your specific condition.
During your second appointment, if the MDT believes you might have ovarian cancer, they may recommend surgery to remove your cancer and confirm the diagnosis. If scans have revealed the presence of cancer cells or its spread, the MDT may suggest a treatment sequence:
In light of the challenges posed by COVID-19, the NHS has adapted its healthcare delivery. It may involve remote appointments via telephone or online consultations. For in-person clinic visits, attending alone is recommended, but you can bring a mobile phone for emotional support if needed. You may also have the option to record your appointment for reference.
If the initial treatment recommendation is surgery, the hospital will schedule your admission date for the procedure, usually a few days before the surgery. If doctors detect cancer, they may not need to administer chemotherapy following surgery.
Sometimes, immediate surgery cannot remove the cancer. In such instances, your clinical team will advise starting with chemotherapy to shrink the tumour. Before administering chemotherapy, the medical team typically conducts a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis, performing the procedure under local anaesthetic.
The oncologist overseeing your chemotherapy will tailor the treatment plan to your unique needs. Depending on your health, you may receive three cycles of chemotherapy every three weeks or a smaller dose weekly for nine weeks before surgery. Each cycle typically takes place as an outpatient procedure.
After surgery, your doctor may prescribe three additional cycles of chemotherapy if any traces of the tumour still exist. In some cases, your doctor may recommend bevacizumab (Avastin), a targeted treatment that hinders the cancer’s blood supply, potentially delaying recurrence.
Other therapies like PARP inhibitors, such as Olaparib, may also be considered to prevent or delay cancer reoccurrence.
After your chemotherapy or maintenance therapy, you will undergo a final scan to assess any remaining cancer. Subsequently, you will have follow-up outpatient appointments, which may be conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or via online consultations. These appointments are crucial for monitoring your health and addressing any concerns.
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can evoke emotions, fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and anger. It’s essential to recognise that these feelings are entirely normal. Some individuals may even experience depression during or after cancer treatments. If you’re struggling, remember that help and support are available.
Opening up about your emotions to a trusted friend or professional can provide tremendous relief and guidance. Don’t hesitate to seek out someone who can listen and offer support.
Self-help methods like relaxation techniques, complementary therapies such as reflexology and massage, or dietary adjustments can also aid in coping. However, always consult your medical team before embarking on any new treatment or dietary regimen to ensure it’s appropriate for your situation.
Remember, your mental health is just as important as your physical well-being. Seeking treatment and taking steps to care for yourself can enhance your overall quality of life during and after ovarian cancer treatment.