“Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic cancer, but it is the most deadly because most women are diagnosed late when the cancer has spread and is most difficult to treat,” says Dr. Barbara Goff, a UW Medicine gynecologic oncologist.
“There are three key things women should know about ovarian cancer,” says Goff. “One, they need to know if they have risk factors for ovarian cancer; and the most important risk factor is having a family history of the disease. So women need to know if other members of their family have had ovarian cancer.”
Know the symptoms of ovarian cancer
“Second, all women need to know the symptoms of ovarian cancer, because every woman is at risk for the disease,” Goff says. “For many years, ovarian cancer was considered a “silent killer” because it was thought to not cause symptoms until it was too late to cure. But because of research done here at UW Medicine, we now know there are symptoms that are early warning signs that, if recognized, can help women get treatment when the cancer is easier to treat.”
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) is a non-profit partnership between UW Medicine, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children's. Together, the three entities provide state-of-the-art cancer screening and diagnosis, as well as world-class cancer treatment and patient care at the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Northwest. Inpatient care, including surgery, is provided by UW physicians and medical staff at UW Medical Center. Outpatient care is provided by UW Medicine oncologists who practice at the SCCA outpatient clinic in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood.
Other common ovarian cancer symptoms may include:
“Now, we all have some of those symptoms from time to time,” Goff says. “But if the symptoms are new; if they occur almost daily; and they persist for more than two to three weeks, you should see your doctor and have them checked out.”
Where to find specialty cancer care
The third thing women need to know is that if their doctor thinks they might have ovarian cancer, it’s really important that they seek care from a specialist, in particular, a gynecologic oncologist who has special training in treating this disease. The treatment of ovarian cancer is complex and requires expert surgery, chemotherapy and radiation care.
“So if you’re diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you want to go to a medical center that can provide comprehensive care in all these areas,” says Goff. “UW Medicine, in partnership with the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), offers that kind of care.
For a gynecologic cancer care appointment, request an appointment online, or call 855.520.5151.
Q&A with Dr. Barbara Goff
UW Medicine Health: What led you to go into the field of gynecologic oncology?
Goff: “One of the great things about this specialty is we get to take care of the whole patient during the course of her treatment. Not only do we perform the surgery, but we also manage the chemotherapy treatments and help plan the radiotherapy — so we are almost like primary care doctors for women with these cancers. It’s a great experience, and over the course of treatment, I come to think of most of my patients as friends.”
UW Medicine Health: What’s the most exciting development in the field of gynecologic oncology today?
Goff: “Two things, first has been the introduction of robotic surgery, which allows us to do very complex cancer surgery through tiny incisions. Now, patients can often go home the next day after surgery; they can go back to work. The second development is the explosion of new cancer drugs, particularly drugs that are designed to target tumor cells specifically. These drugs hit tumor cells harder but, because they spare normal cells, have far fewer side effects than we saw with older drugs.”
UW Medicine Health: What do you like about working at UW Medicine?
Goff: “With our partners in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, UW Medicine can offer the entire package of cancer care. We take a multidisciplinary approach; our team includes not just internationally renowned surgeons and cancer specialists but social workers, nutritional counselor and physical therapists — and we’re all working together with a unified purpose: to heal the patient.”
“I believe that patients and physicians need to work as a team to cure the disease. I like patients who actively participate in their care. I always have a positive attitude when treating cancer and believe in a multidisciplinary approach to treating patients.”
Understand the risks.
Gynecologic cancer patients at UW Medicine can expect to have a team of health-care professionals who work collaboratively to find the best approach for each individual.
As leaders in research and innovation, UW Medicine’s specialists are dedicated to protecting patients’ precious hearts and lives.