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 Cancer

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Ovarian Cancer: The Caregiver's Role
By Sandra Ray, Staff Writer

(Page 3 of 4)

Radiation therapy is generally only helpful in treatment if the cancer is still confined to a relatively small area, like the ovaries. Once the cancer begins to spread to other organs, radiation therapy loses its effectiveness since it cannot be sufficiently targeted to help kill the cancer cells.

Role of Clinical Trials in Follow-up Care:

Because of the relatively small window for effective detection and treatment of ovarian cancer, doctors regularly recommend that women enroll in a clinical trial for follow-up care. Women can help advance  the science of treating ovarian cancer at any stage of the disease. Even when the disease advances into the third and fourth stages where traditional treatment methods fail, it is still possible to learn from women in these categories so that further clinical advancements can be made.

Dr. Don Dizon, FACP, Assistance Professor, OB/GYN & Medicine at Brown Medical School notes, “Many of the advances in the treatment of ovarian cancer would not be possible if not for the women who participate in clinical trials. Whether they joined the trials before cancer was detected and taught physicians what to search for or after their cancer was in the treatment stages, doctors could still learn a great deal from them.”

Dizon leads several clinical trials, each in different areas since there are many fruitful avenues for medical exploration in ovarian cancer. Some of these areas include immunotherapy or ways to use the immune system to combat and treat ovarian cancer; quality of life studies for women who are completing treatment; and novel therapeutics for early detection of ovarian cancer. Dizon says, “When ovarian cancer reaches the abdomen, something about the environment there allows it to spread quickly to other parts of the body. Research studies are looking at the effectiveness of applying chemotherapy directly to the abdomen as a method of treatment.” These are only some of the reasons that Dizon recommends that even healthy women get involved in clinical trials.

As far as prevention and early treatment, Dizon notes that there are several trials out there aimed at blood profiling that will hopefully give doctors useful tools for finding ovarian cancer at even earlier stages. Dizon also notes with irony that one of the best methods for preventing ovarian cancer could put women at increased risk for developing breast cancer later. “Without removing the ovaries – one of the only ways known to almost fully prevent ovarian cancer – birth control pills remain one of the best ways to reduce a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. Still, women must weigh the increased risk of breast cancer if they choose this mechanism of prevention.”

Ovarian cancer can and does recur. For this reason, five year survival rates are lower than researchers like when managing a deadly disease. The cancer may not all be removed during the first treatment and could have spread undetected to other areas of the body. Another reason many doctors advocate participation in clinical trials is the possibility of recurrence. Women and caregivers need to be prepared for this possibility when first beginning to look at treatment options and follow-up care.

Caregiver Role:

Caregivers play an important role in the treatment of ovarian cancer. While it may be difficult to discuss, it is important to maintain open lines of communication with family, friends, and others who may be supportive during this time. In addition, caregivers can help relay information to physicians that may seem insignificant to the patient, yet could give important details about what is happening at home as a result of treatment.

 

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