Ovarian cancer is a somewhat rare, dreaded form of cancer that affects the female reproductive system. It often begins in the ovaries—the organs that produce eggs.
Some healthcare providers consider ovarian cancer notorious because they think that there are no symptoms whatsoever in the early stages. In an interesting opinion piece in the Houston Business Journal, Runsi Sen, an advocate for ovarian cancer awareness at Houston-based Ovarcome, pushed back on this belief, contending that, “We need to remember that the symptoms are persistent and not silent.”
Early diagnosis is key
Seeking medical attention and advice early is important because detection is the key to longer survival.
Consider these survival rates for the following localized types of early-stage ovarian cancer:
• Epithelial ovarian cancer: 92% five-year relative survival rate
• Ovarian stromal tumors: 92% five-year relative survival rate
• Fallopian tube cancer: 94% five-year relative survival rate
• Germ cell tumors of the ovary: 98% five-your relative survival rate
Unfortunately, when the cancer has metastasized or spread, survival rates are bleaker.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
The ovaries are two small organs located on both sides of the uterus. They’re about the size of an almond. They are so small and located so deep within the abdominal cavity that you might think of symptoms as being whispering rather than screaming.
Here are the common symptoms to be aware of, which match the mnemonic BEACH:
• B for bloating
• E for early satiety (feeling full quickly when eating)
• A for abdominal or pelvic pain
• C for changes in bowel and bladder function or habits
• H for heightened fatigue
The importance of patients advocating for themselves
What really got my enthusiastic attention about this opinion piece that I mentioned above is a comment shared by a gastrointestinal oncologist, Mark Lewis, MD. Dr. Lewis said, “The most powerful force in medicine is the self-advocating patient. Listen to your body.”
Wow. From the perspective of a medical malpractice attorney, I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Lewis. I only wish that more physicians and healthcare providers would actually take the time to listen to their patients. In my experience, with the demands on their time, many doctors and nurses succumb to the pressure of in-and-out patient encounters without much critical thinking.
This type of disease underscores the importance of having an ongoing relationship with a primary care provider, including regular checkups. This allows the doctor to establish a healthcare baseline for the patient, improving the likelihood that even subtle changes may be noticed.
On top of that, it’s important for patients to remember to be their own advocate. It’s often easier for a person who drives the same car every day to notice when there’s something wrong, as opposed to a mechanic or someone else is not familiar with the vehicle. Not to diminish the importance and value of medical training, but as individuals, we are more familiar with our bodies than any healthcare provider. Don’t be shy about sharing what you’re feeling and experiencing your own body.
Ovarian cancer medical practice
There are several ways that a physician, radiologist, or lab personnel may be negligent, leading to delayed diagnosis and treatment.
The standard of care requires primary care and other physicians to perform a detailed physical exam and obtain detailed information from patients regarding family history. The idea behind this requirement is to provide the doctor with awareness of risk factors for different conditions, including ovarian cancer. On each encounter, the doctor is also required to exercise critical thinking and independent judgment based on the full clinical picture, including information provided by the patient.
Failing to follow up on suspicious or abnormal findings on abdominal and pelvic radiology images (e.g., ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRI scans) is another problem in ovarian cancer prevention and care. In one case, a young woman was seeing a reproductive specialist who did several pelvic ultrasounds that identified suspicious area that should have been worked up. Instead of going through the required differential diagnosis process, the doctor discounted it as a common benign finding, without even mentioning to the patient.
A year later, different doctor discovered the same finding, which led to a diagnosis of Stage 3 ovarian cancer. This could have been avoided much earlier, and with better results, if the first doctor had provided an appropriate workup.
Lab personnel can also contribute to delayed diagnosis and treatment. When a doctor suspects that a patient may have ovarian cancer, the standard of care requires taking a biopsy (tissue sample) for analysis in the laboratory. A pathologist—a physician trained to do microscopic examinations of tissue—will review the sample under a microscope and make findings. If the pathologist botches the interpretation, or lab personnel did not timely communicate the findings to the ordering physician, it constitutes negligence.
If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor ovarian or other cancer care in Texas, then contact an experienced, top-rated and rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.