Subtle symptoms: Her ovarian cancer required surgery and chemotherapy
BY AMBER SMITH
She’s 52 and still alive, so Aimee Derbyshire feels as if she had survived a family curse. She lost a great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, aunt and sister to various cancers, each before they turned 50.
Derbyshire and another sister are survivors.
She credits gynecologic oncologist Mary Cunningham, MD (see below). This January, Derbyshire will mark two years of remission from ovarian cancer.
It was the end of July 2017 when Derbyshire was struck with belly pain so severe that she went to the hospital. Hours later, a doctor gave her the news: On her ovary was a growth the size of a tennis ball.
She left with an appointment to see Cunningham.
“Everything moved very quickly,” she recalls. Surgery to remove the tumor was Aug. 9. A few weeks later she began chemotherapy, which ended on Jan. 3, 2018.
Today she follows up with Cunningham every four months.
“I’m just grateful to be alive,” Derbyshire says. “She’s a wonderful doctor. She cured me.”
Ovarian cancer facts
Ovarian cancer starts in a woman’s reproductive glands, known as the ovaries. Most ovarian cancers are made up of epithelial cells, which cover the outer surface of the ovary, but some originate from germ cells or structural tissue cells.
Some ovarian tumors are benign. Those that are malignant may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40. About half of the women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer are 63 years or older.
About 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found at an early, more treatable stage, but most ovarian tumors are difficult or impossible to feel during a medical exam.
The most common symptoms are bloating; pelvic or abdominal pain; trouble eating or feeling full quickly; and feeling as if you need urinate
frequently or urgently. See your medical care provider if you have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks.
Symptoms may also include fatigue, upset stomach, back pain, pain during sex, constipation, heavy or irregular menstruation and abdominal swelling with weight loss.
Factors that may increase a woman’s risk for developing ovarian cancer: a personal history of breast cancer; a family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer; being overweight or obese; having a first child after age 35 or never carrying a pregnancy to term; taking estrogen therapy after menopause; and – potentially – using fertility treatment with in vitro fertilization.
Factors that appear to lower a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer: each full-term pregnancy; carrying a baby to term before age 26; breastfeeding; the use of oral contraceptives; tubal ligation or short use of intrauterine devices; and a hysterectomy, a surgical procedure to remove the uterus.
A variety of tests may be recommended in order to diagnose ovarian cancer. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce a picture of the ovaries. Computerized tomography scans or X-rays take pictures of the ovaries or other parts of the body.
Laparoscopy allows a doctor to look at the ovaries and other nearby body parts. Blood tests can also be used as tumor markers.
A biopsy of ovarian tissue — usually done when the tumor is removed during surgery — is the only way to confirm cancer.
Surgery is the main treatment, but depending on the type and stage of ovarian cancer, some women may need other treatments before or after surgery, or both. That usually includes chemotherapy.
Source: American Cancer Society
GYN Oncology of CNY joins Upstate
Mary Cunningham, MD, and Douglas Bunn, MD, of GYN Oncology of CNY have joined Upstate’s department of obstetrics and gynecology and offer services through the Upstate Cancer Center. The practice is the area’s leading provider of comprehensive care for women with gynecologic cancers.
Bunn and Cunningham will see patients at the Madison Irving Medical Center, 475 Irving Ave., Syracuse.
“Patients will have access to more clinical trials and additional support services, says Cunningham.
They offer a range of diagnostic and therapeutic options for women with ovarian, uterine, cervical and other gynecologic cancers, including radical surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and newer treatments such as immunotherapy and robotic sentinel node dissection. Nutritional and psychological counseling and genetic testing are also available.
Upstate participates in the National Cancer Institute’s cooperative trial group, NRG Oncology, providing patients with local access to the latest developments in therapy and access to national clinical trials.
With this move, Cunningham and Bunn join Rinki Agarwal, MD, as physicians in Upstate’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology.
To request an appointment, call 315-464-HOPE (4673).
This article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Cancer Care magazine.