Mission Hope Cancer Center

september is ovarian cancer awareness month

Research, Care and Advocacy

To make an appointment with Dr. Lutman, please call Mission Hope Health Center at 805.346.3456.

The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu is credited with the inspirational words: “The thousand mile journey always begins with a single step.” This meaningful quotation is an apt description for progress that has been made and continues to be made in our national battle against ovarian cancer.

Given the moniker “silent killer” by generations of women and physicians, ovarian cancer now appears to be better understood than ever before. Though our victories often seem small and there is still much work to do, we are optimistic as we continue to push forward against ovarian cancer.

In 2001, President George W. Bush signed the executive order which declared the month of September “Ovarian Cancer Awareness month” in the U.S. Since that historic declaration of advocacy fifteen years ago, much has been learned and a clearer vision of the path forward has emerged.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Medicine released a seminal report called: “Ovarian Cancers: Evolving Paradigms in Research and Care.” This highly anticipated national document was the product of several years of collaboration and research by established thought leaders in the fields of gynecologic oncology, epidemiology, and patient advocacy, among others. This report has laid a new foundation in helping clinicians, patients, and researchers better understand different types of ovarian cancers at the cellular level and at the population level. It should have significant impact on research, care and advocacy in the years ahead.

The field of medical genetics has moved forward substantially over the past twenty years. It is now believed that perhaps 15 to 20% of all new cases of ovarian cancer are due to mutated genes that a woman inherits from her parents. It is now recommended that all women with ovarian cancer be tested for gene mutations. Ovary cancer patients who harbor certain gene mutations are now candidates of innovative new drugs that have been shown to be highly effective against ovarian cancer.

In family members discovered to be carrying gene mutations which cause ovarian cancer, the aim is to prevent the disease through medical and surgical interventions that significantly reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Over the past ten years, researchers and clinicians have discovered that many cases of ovarian cancer likely begin in the nearby fallopian tubes. Ongoing research in this area has led to widespread suggestion that prophylactic removal of the fallopian tubes in women undergoing other abdominal or pelvic operations may be an important way to prevent ovarian cancer.

The field of palliative care has grown dramatically in the U.S. over the past ten years. Patients and families battling serious illnesses such as ovarian cancer deserve the best supportive care, symptom control, communication and (when appropriate) end of life care. After years of being ignored, palliative care has finally captured the imagination of physicians and patients, alike. Women and families battling ovarian cancer can expect improvements in the quality of their lives now and in the future because of this realization.

I often tell my patients and their families facing a diagnosis of ovarian cancer that we have embarked on a journey that will (at times) seem like an uphill climb. It is my hope that the victories outlined here will provide some inspiration for each of us on the road.