When 41-year-old Ivanna Vidal learned in 2013 that she carried the mutation for the BRCA2 gene, she knew she had an increased risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer. She had herself tested because of her family’s extensive breast cancer history.
Her first move was to have a prophylactic double mastectomy. As she decided on a date for the surgical removal of her ovaries, the reality of that genetic risk took hold. In between six month screenings, Vidal developed stage 3 ovarian cancer.
Following surgery in July 2014, the mother of twin girls began chemotherapy and is now a patient at the newly created Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Clinic at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of UHealth – University of Miami Health System.
Women like Vidal are the reason for the clinic, led by Dr. Brian Slomovitz, Division Director of Gynecologic Oncology at Sylvester. “We used to think ovarian cancer was a silent disease, giving patients no warning,” Slomovitz says. “We now know much more.”
Ovarian cancer does show symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bloating or swelling — but they are often mistaken for other illnesses such as gastric disorders or urinary tract infections. Slomovitz warns that women need to be aware of these subtle changes and see a doctor if they persist longer than 10 to 14 days.
Slomovitz says Vidal’s cancer was caught early enough to give her a good prognosis for the future. “Unfortunately, that’s often not the case,” he adds. There is no good screening test for ovarian cancer, “so we want to identify more women who are at high risk.”
Like most cancers, early detection is key and the risk of diagnosis increases with age. Women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer should be tested to determine if they carry a genetic mutation that increases their risk for the diseases.
Women with BRCA mutations have up to a 40 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer and up to an 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer. Once a woman tests positive, the expertise of the team at Sylvester’s Early Detection Clinic truly comes to light.
Patients visiting the clinic will see a gynecologic oncologist, genetic counselor and a radiologist specifically trained to identify gynecologic cancers. Blood work and ultrasounds are also performed on site by trained experts, and nurse navigators escort patients through the healthcare system.
One preventive move for women who are beyond their child-bearing years is to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Others prefer to be monitored more closely with frequent screenings.
Board-certified senior cancer genetics counselor Talia Donenberg helps patients make decisions once their test results are in. She said women with hereditary ovarian cancer make up 15 to 20 percent of all cases because of the discovery of more genes involved in inherited cancers. Patients who come to the clinic undergo risk assessment and genetic counseling to determine if they may benefit from genetic testing and which genes should be analyzed. Patients who have already had genetic testing are also welcome.
“Each woman is different and we are here to help them learn the facts and learn their options,” says Donenberg. “Knowledge is power that can save your life.”
For patients who have already been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Slomovitz and the team of gynecologic cancer experts are using Sylvester’s genetic testing capability to identify each patient’s genetic mutation and then determine which specific therapy might prove beneficial. Among the treatment possibilities is a newly approved drug, Lynparza (olaparib), for advanced, BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer.
“We offer a personalized approach that is really where cancer treatment is heading,” says Slomovitz. “By learning more about each patient’s specific mutation, we can more accurately target the therapy and better treat these patients.”
The Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Clinic is located at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami and at Sylvester in Deerfield Beach. For more information, call 305-243-5302.
Above content is provided by Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center