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5 ways women can get better ovarian cancer care

September 22, 2015 | Robert Bristow, MD, MBA
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Women often focus more on their children, spouses and careers. Their own personal health often comes last. That needs to stop.

  • Twenty-two thousand women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year.
  • Two-thirds of them do not get adequate care.

While it will take a multipronged approach to turn those numbers around, empowering women to demand appropriate treatment is an important step.

There are five steps you can take to be a better advocate for your health.

1. Don’t panic

“You have an ovarian mass, and it’s suspicious.”

When you hear these words, it’s easy to see your whole life flash in front of your eyes – you may want to take immediate action with the first healthcare provider available.

Don’t let that panic take over. Calm down and assess the situation.

It’s OK to take a week to do your research and get a second opinion. That extra time could make a big difference in your survival rate.

2. Do your research

Once you’ve taken time to process your diagnosis, start learning everything you can.

While I don’t recommend getting all your medical information from Google, the Internet can be helpful. Use good judgment about whether a site is reputable:

  • Who runs the site – is it the government, a university, health organization or hospital?
  • Does the site have an editorial board or is the information reviewed?
  • How current is the information?

You can calculate your risk of malignancy on an online calculator. It takes 30 seconds to assess your risk and find out whether you should seek treatment from a gynecologic oncologist. Discuss your results with your physician.

Advocacy groups such as the Newport Beach-based nonprofit Queen of Hearts Foundation are valuable resources. It can help to talk with someone who has gone through ovarian cancer treatment. I’ve seen it countless times: these sisterhoods flock to support patients, offer advice and information and point them to local experts and resources.

3. Quiz your doctor

It’s always fair to quiz your physician and surgeon about their experience and qualifications to do a particular procedure. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t worry about offending the doctor.

For example, if you have been diagnosed with an ovarian mass, these are some questions you might want to ask:

  • What is your treatment philosophy?
  • Is there a gynecologic oncologist available or should I be referred to one?
  • How often do you operate on women with ovarian cancer?
  • What is your surgical debulking rate – how much of the tumor can you remove?
  • How many patients do you deliver intraperitoneal chemotherapy to?
  • Do you have access to clinical trials?

If your physician uses a word or phrase you don’t understand, ask him or her to explain it. Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t understand the medical terminology. If it was your sister or child, you’d ask – you deserve the same for your own health.

4. Get a second opinion

I encourage my patients to get a second opinion. It’s always good to get a different perspective.

If your physician recommends a complicated treatment program or you’re nervous about a course of action, see what a different doctor thinks. The second doctor may tell you the same thing, but at least you’ll have verification that it’s the right path to take.

If there is a modest suspicion that you could have ovarian cancer, you should definitely consult with a gynecologic oncologist. You want someone who has that specific expertise to look at your case and make a recommendation for care.

5. Make decisions

Once you’ve done the research, asked the questions and received a second opinion, you’re ready to make good decisions about where to seek care, who should provide that care and what the best course of action is.

One of the best ways to ensure you get the best treatment is to be an active participant in your healthcare. You have the power. Use it.

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