NEW HYDE PARK, NY –Angelina Jolie’s New York Times op-ed about preventatively removing her ovaries and fallopian tubes in an effort to prevent ovarian cancer will hopefully educate more women about their options to prevent ovarian cancer, a New York oncologist said.
Ms. Jolie said she recently had a blood test that showed some potential markers for cancer. She has a BRCA gene mutation, which can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast and/or ovarian cancer.
Antoinette Sakaris, MD, gynecologic oncologist at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute, urges women who have a first-degree relative – their mother, sibling or child – with a history of breast or ovarian cancer or if someone has multiple family members who have had these diseases, to seek genetic testing and counseling. Women can also look into their risk of breast and ovarian cancer with these websites: http://www.brightpink.org/ and http://www.facingourrisk.org/index.php.
“This kind of risk reduction surgery is recommended for women who have been through genetic counseling and testing and have a BRCA mutation,” said Jill Whyte, MD, gynecologic oncologist at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute. “The average woman has a one to 1.5 percent risk of getting ovarian cancer. A woman with a BRCA mutation has between a 15 to 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.”
Dr. Whyte says that there is no accurate way to detect ovarian cancer at its early stages. Typically, patients present with symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating or changes in their bowel or urinary habits and then receive a computed tomography (CT) scan that shows evidence of cancer, she said.
“The best way to treat ovarian cancer is to prevent it from ever happening, especially since we don’t have an accurate method currently to detect the disease early on,” Dr. Whyte said.
This preventative surgery of removing the ovaries and tubes will cause a woman to experience early menopause. Dr. Whyte says that menopause symptoms can be managed through hormonal and non-hormonal therapies.
“The effects of early ovarian removal and resultant premature surgical menopause include increased future risk of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and impaired cognitive function,” Dr. Sakaris said. “Additionally, women suffer from menopausal hot flashes, insomnia, mood/skin/hair changes and vaginal dryness with decreased libido.”
Dr. Whyte said that women who opt for the risk-reduction surgery know what ovarian cancer looks like because they’ve seen a mother, sister or aunt with the disease.
“To them, this is a positive decision and they feel empowered,” she said.