Cancer Doesn’t Stop for COVID

Cancer doesn’t wait for COVID and delaying care can cause a higher risk to patients

Bradford Whitcomb MD, gynecologic oncologist, talks to a patient in the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health. January 26, 2018 (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

During the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans across the country sheltered at home and put off crucial visits to the doctor’s office, medical centers, and even emergency rooms.

While it may have felt like the safest option at the time, experts fear that this delay in preventive healthcare may result in negative health outcomes. It is important to continue taking care of your health and medical conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health has taken several measures to protect high-risk patients from COVID-19.

“Cancer doesn’t wait for COVID and delaying care can cause a higher risk to patients,” says Dr. Bradford Whitcomb, Chief of Gynecologic Oncology at the Carole & Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health.

Unfortunately, ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at a late stage, making it difficult to treat; it leads to the deaths of about 14,000 women annually in the United States, more than any other gynecological cancer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death in women.

Unlike, the Pap smear for cervical cancer screening or mammograms for breast cancer, ovarian cancer does not have a good screening test that has been proven to be effective, making early detection challenging in ovarian cancer.

When ovarian cancer first develops, it might not cause any noticeable symptoms. When symptoms do occur, these symptoms are often attributed to other, more common conditions because the symptoms mimic many other health conditions.

Signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may include more than 2-3 weeks out of the month with:

  • Abdominal bloating or swelling
  • Quickly feeling full when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area
  • Fatigue
  • Back pain
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • A frequent need or urgency to urinate

Your chances of developing ovarian cancer increase as you get older with a median age of 63 at diagnosis. You may be at an even higher risk if you have a family history of breast, ovarian or other cancers, have never given birth, or have not been on birth control pills for a period of time. It’s important to see your primary care doctor or gynecologist if you are experiencing these symptoms who can refer you to Dr. Whitcomb and his team.

Some ovarian cancers cluster in families. These cancers are described as hereditary and are associated with inherited gene mutations. Hereditary ovarian cancers may develop earlier in life than non-inherited (sporadic) cases. Risk management decisions are very personal, and the best option depends on many factors. It is important to discuss these options with your doctor if you have hereditary cancer syndrome.

Dr. Whitcomb reports one of the greatest challenges in gynecologic oncology is preventing and detecting ovarian cancer early when it hasn’t yet spread to other organs. While there is not a good screening test for ovarian cancer, it remains important to have regular gynecologic exams and discuss persistent symptoms with your doctors. On a more positive note, the survival of patients with ovarian cancer has improved over the past 3 decades and there has been much headway in treatment.

Drs. Bradford Whitcomb, Molly Brewer, and Jennifer Jorgensen, and APRN Karen Metersky deliver the most up-to-date, evidence-based treatment of ovarian cancer from the time of diagnosis through surgery, postoperative chemotherapy, and survivorship. Their goal is to provide the highest quality, compassionate, individualized care leading to long-term survival in a setting that offers all services to cancer survivors and their families.

The team approach includes genetic testing and a tumor board that reviews the patient’s case and provides multiple recommendations to find the best treatment. Additionally, the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center offers multiple supportive services including palliative care, nutrition, social services, and access to other cancer specialists.

This versatile group has expertise in advanced surgical techniques, including laparoscopic, robotic, and open surgery options. Once the ovarian cancer is removed surgically, most patients will undergo chemotherapy intravenously for four to five months and many will qualify for oral maintenance therapy afterward.

Dr. Whitcomb and his team take an individualized approach to treat cancer and provide a high level of specialized care.  Dr. Whitcomb advises patients to have regular annual pelvic exams even if menopausal for preventative healthcare.

For more information on ovarian cancer and treatment options visit the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health.