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Why ovarian cancer has high recurrence rate: ‘This is not a death sentence’

Posted at 10:19 AM, Aug 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-23 14:43:31-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Jane Haines thought she had cancer one year after she was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in September 2013.

"I was really hoping to be one and done and I really thought the first treatment would do it and we'd be done with everything," Haines said.

But two years later, Haines' cancer returned.

"I was pretty devastated, but I had a feeling, you just have a sense that things aren't quite right with your body," she said.

According to the National Cancer Institute, around 70 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will have a recurrence of the disease.

One of the biggest factors determining the risk of recurrence is the stage of cancer at diagnosis. Patients diagnosed in the early stages have less risk of the cancer returning. Unfortunately most cases of ovarian cancer aren't detected until the late stages of the disease.

Dr. Jori Carter, a Gynecologic Oncologist at a Johnston-Willis Hospital’s Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute, said newer technology and medications have helped patients treat recurrent cancer.

"I do want people to know there's a lot of women living well either with recurrence and on therapy, or who have been cured," Dr. Carter said.

There's a variety of treatments to help fight the disease, including chemotherapy, targeted therapy, surgery, or radiation.

New drugs that target ovarian cancer cells, such PARP Inhibitors, are also showing promise in maintenance therapy after treatment.

"We know that about half of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are alive five years after diagnosis," Carter said. "So this is not a death sentence."

Haines opted for six more rounds of chemotherapy and then a PARP Inhibitor, but recently went off the medication because of side effects.

"I felt it was the right decision for me. I kind of feel like I lost that security blanket a little bit, and I'm anxious to get my CT in October," Haines said.

But Haines is optimistic. Since the spring, she's felt healthy and is looking forward to the future with her husband.

"I just have to be positive and hope it all works out," Haines said.

Physicians said it's important to visit your doctor for annual exams and to report any symptoms such as bloating or swelling, pelvic pain or any changes in bathroom habits that persist over time.

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.