NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Ovarian cancer strikes about 20,000 women every year, and 14,000 die because the disease is usually picked up at late stages.
A new report is shedding light on how doctors might be able to catch the disease earlier and treat it better.
Ovarian cancer is actually many different diseases and may not even originate in the ovaries, as reported by CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez. Doctors have started to classify all cancers, not by where they happen to be found, but by their genetic and molecular markers, which will also determine the best treatments.
Hollywood scriptwriter Dana Baratta brings characters to life on television, but now she’s telling her own story: her battle with advanced stage ovarian cancer.
“It is incredibly frightening. It knocks you off your feet completely,” Baratta told CBS2.
A new report says ovarian cancer is not just one disease, but rather different types of cancers that often start in the uterus or Fallopian tubes.
“The ovary itself is such a fertile area for the cells to implant with lots of blood vessels and nutrients that they don’t actually begin on the ovary, but they actually metastasize to the ovary,” Dr. Beth Karlan, of Cedars Sinai Medical Center, said.
The report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says understanding these cancers is critical for early detection and treatment.
“Now that we know where the cells start, we can better look at how do we find them early. We can design treatment to really custom fit each woman’s tumor,” Karlan said.
The report also calls for more universal genetic testing for all women with ovarian cancer.
Baratta did carry a gene that put her at higher risk. However, like many women, her symptoms were not very specific or suggestive of ovarian cancer, including bloating or lingering abdominal pain. Four years later, she’s in remission, but knows there’s an 80 percent chance of recurrence.
“You know, most days are overshadowed by how happy I am to be here,” Baratta said.
She hopes more research will change the odds for ovarian cancer survivors.
The so-called breast cancer genes, BRCA 1 and 2, also put women at higher risk for ovarian cancer. While there are good ways to detect early breast cancer, that’s not the case for ovarian cancer.
Many doctors say removal of the ovaries in women with those mutations can ultimately be a life-saver.