YOUR HEALTH: Fighting ovarian cancer by not removing the ovaries

CHICAGO, Illinois – Karen Ingalls was enjoying retirement in Florida with her husband one day, the next she was fighting for her life. It was nine years ago whe...

CHICAGO, Illinois – Karen Ingalls was enjoying retirement in Florida with her husband one day, the next she was fighting for her life.

It was nine years ago when doctors found a tumor in her abdomen the size of a melon.

"I had to start thinking about what I wanted to do and what God wanted me to do with whatever time I had left," she remembered.

Ovarian cancer has been called "The Silent Killer" because symptoms are often so subtle women don`t know they have it until the cancer is in a late, hard-to-treat stage.

Now, researchers at the University of Chicago are working on a new treatment option: enrolling women in the WISP trial, women choosing surgical prevention.

"It's a trial meant for people who are at quite elevated risk for ovarian cancer because they've been identified to carry a mutation in a gene," said Dr. Iris Romero, an obstetrician/gynecologist at the University of Chicago.

For years, doctors have recommended young women at high risk have both their Fallopian tubes and ovaries removed.
It greatly lowers the risk of cancer but causes early menopause.

Half of the women enrolled will have the traditional surgery, the other half will have two surgeries, removing just their Fallopian tubes first.

New research suggests that is the point where ovarian cancer actually begins.

"So in the WISP trial where a patient chooses to take a two-step procedure she may delay the onset of menopause by several years until she comes back to get her ovaries out," explained Dr. Romero.

Dr. Romero says the goal is to determine if women have less sexual dysfunction and a better quality of life by staggering the surgeries.

MORE ABOUT CANCER:  Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries and often goes undetected until it has spread to the abdomen and pelvis.  Symptoms in the early stage rarely occur, but advanced stages may cause few and nonspecific symptoms that can be often mistaken for common conditions such as constipation or irritable bowel.   Signs and symptoms may include; quickly feeling full when eating, weight loss, discomfort of the pelvis area, changes in bowel habits, a frequent need to urinate, and abdominal bloating or swelling.  (Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ovarian-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20375941)

In the meantime, survivors like Karen Ingalls continue to advocate for ovarian cancer education and support.

"I am encouraged and I think we are on the right road."

Karen Ingalls was treated with surgery and chemo, and has had two cancer recurrences.  She is currently in remission.

Dr. Romero says she and other researchers ultimately want to know if removing just the Fallopian tubes will be enough to protect against ovarian cancer.

MORE ABOUT THE STUDY:   A Stand Up to Cancer funded clinical trial is being conducted specifically for individuals who carry genetic mutations that elevate their risk of getting ovarian cancer.   The trial, WISP, stands for 'Women Choosing SurgIcal Prevention.'   The trial is open at multiple sites across the country and follows both women who have the one-step procedure as well as the two-step to compare and understand what affects there are on menopause, sexual function, and other health issues.   In addition to the Chicago site, the WISP trial is being conducted at five other major U.S. cancer centers: MD Anderson, Houston; University of Washington, Seattle; Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota; Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston; Memorial Sloan Kettering Center, New York.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.