Ovarian Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the ovarian cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the ovarian cancer advocate is to support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Ovarian cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of ovarian cancer patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer develops from the ovaries. Ovaries are the main organs in a woman that produce estrogen and progesterone. There three main types of cells in the ovary and each type can develop into a kind of cancer. The cells and the tumors they can develop into are:
1. Epithelial cells can develop into epithelia ovarian tumors. Most cancers of the ovary are of this type.
2. Germ cell (where the ova are produced) can develop into germ cell carcinoma.
3. Stromal cells that can develop stromal cell cancer.
These cancers are grouped further into sub-types and then staged according to how they have spread away from the ovary; or if they are just localized.
· Abdominal discomfort with bloating.
· Lower abdominal pains.
· Urine passing problems.
· Poor appetite
· Heaviness in the abdomen
· Generalized weakness and wasting among many other non-specific symptoms of ill-health.
It is important to rule out other conditions of the abdomen and the reproductive system which can cause similar symptoms.
Causes and Risk Factors
What causes cancer is not known clearly. Either a woman inherits a damaged gene or certain factors initiate gene damage which leads to the cancer cell development. Some of these factors could be environmental. Risk factors include:
· Lifestyle – obesity, unhealthy diet which include high fat low vegetable and fruit. Talcum powder on the genital areas is suspected of increasing the risk
· Having had breast cancer
· Colon cancer of the inherited risk type
· Women in a family of ‘family cancer syndrome.’
· Use of androgens.
· Previous treatment with estrogen and other hormone therapies.
· Use of Clomiphene (a fertility drug) for more than 1 year.
· Childbirth. Late first pregnancy raises the risk unlike in those who get their first child at about 26 years and carry the pregnancy to term and after that carry more successful pregnancies.
· Age. Most women are diagnosed at an average age of 63 years.
· Those who carry BRCA1 and BRCA2 (breast cancer susceptibility genes)
Ovarian cancer screening can be part of the diagnostic procedure. Some of the screening techniques are:
· Mammography. The state of the breast can give an idea of how the ovaries are.
· Trans-vaginal ultrasound
· Blood test for CA-125 (a cancer antigen that is used as a biomarker. It is raised in the presence of ovarian cancer). This is more relevant in the epithelial tumor types.
· HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin levels
· Alpha-fetoproteins (AFP) levels
This can help in getting the cancer early and thus improving survival rate of the woman. Imaging tests include:
· Barium enema
· Laparoscopy and or colonoscopy
· CT or CAT scan
· Chest x-ray
· MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
· Positron emission tomography (PET)
Other tests may be carried out to rule out other conditions that may mimic ovarian cancer.
Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, the mainstay of treatment includes:
· Chemotherapy. There are many drugs used with some given orally, through a vein or through the abdominal wall into the abdominal cavity.
· Targeted therapy and
· Hormone therapy.
The treatment can be a combination of these methods.
U.S. Statistics for Ovarian Cancer
· About 21000 women will be newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
· About 14000 women will die of the cancer.
· Ovarian cancer is the leading killer among other cancers of a woman’s reproductive parts.
· Risk of a woman getting the cancer in her lifetime is 1:75. Risk of dying from the same is 1:100.