• COVID-19
    Ovarian Cancer
    Read the story of ASCP Patient Champions Carolyn and Ilana and learn about the role
    of laboratory testing in the diagnosis and treatment of Ovarian Cancer.

WHAT IS OVARIAN CANCER?

Ovarian cancer is a disease in which, depending on the type and stage of the disease, malignant (cancerous) cells are found inside, near, or on the outer layer of the ovaries. An ovary is one of two small, almond-shaped organs located on each side of the uterus that store eggs and produce female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Ovarian Cancer Slide

Papillary serous adenocarcinoma, as shown in this image, gets its name from the formation of glands (adeno-), the production of non-mucous fluid (serous), the formation of rounded or tufted structures with central vessels (papillary), and the invasive and metastatic nature of its behavior (carcinoma).

ASCP Patient Champion Ovarian Cancer Carolyn

“My life hung in the balance waiting for the pathologist to send the report. It was then that I realized just how critical the lab is. Having cancer has led me on a journey, both literally and figuratively. And on this journey, I have learned that every one of us has the ability to make a difference in the world. That if you try, your good intentions can help others in ways that you could never have imagined, and your own rewards are priceless. If someone had said to me 13 years ago, "you're going to have cancer but it's going to be the opportunity of a lifetime", I would have told them they were crazy, but for me, it has been just that.”

CAROLYN'S STORY

Carolyn's life was fulfilling and “pretty good” as she described it. She had a successful career as a commercial advertising photographer, was married and living in vibrant New York City and had a dog named Henry that she and her husband adored.

Some say when life is that good, they are waiting for the other foot to drop. Carolyn had a strong family history of breast and gynecological cancers, so when she was told that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she was not that surprised. What she did find surprising was that her diagnosis was caught very early on, which is not usually the case for many diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The reason why ovarian cancer is hard to detect in its early stages is due to its vague symptoms.

The laboratory had everything to do with Carolyn’s detection and treatment of her cancer. Blood tests were performed to test her blood for tumor markers that indicate ovarian cancer. Specifically, a cancer antigen CA- 125 test can detect a protein that’s often found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. Although tests could not definitively tell her doctor that Carolyn had cancer, it gave essential information and clues that led to her eventual diagnosis. She underwent surgery so that her doctors could biopsy her ovaries and investigate if cancer was indeed her diagnosis. Surgical pathologists tested her biopsy while she was in surgery and Carolyn was diagnosed with two primary cancers at once. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Stage 1B meaning that cancer was found in both ovaries. She was also diagnosed with Stage 1 Endometrial cancer, meaning that cancer was also found in the lining of her uterus.

Because Carolyn had access to timely and effective testing for cancer antigens, she was able to catch the cancer and be treated early and is now been cancer-free. Before diagnosis, Carolyn had never interacted directly with a pathologist or a laboratory professional. However, after she underwent surgery to remove her cancer, she realized everything revolved around the laboratory.

After her diagnosis and recovery, Carolyn traveled to many countries, witnessing the lack of awareness and education about cancer. In late 2011, she founded a non-profit organization called Global Focus on Cancer to help address these issues. Carolyn works to support awareness, education, and advocacy to help patients better navigate their cancer journey and improve their quality of life.

Carolyn encourages other patients who are living with a diagnosis to educate themselves as best they can through well-vetted, scientific information and to use their voice to ask questions until they are satisfied that they have received answers.

ASCP Patient Champion Ovarian Cancer Ilana

“With the rise in personalized medicine, the more information a patient and his/her doctor can know about the tumor, the better it can be treated.”

ILANA’S STORY

Ilana knew she was at risk for breast and ovarian cancer because of her family history. She had requested a BRCA test to be proactive in her care and it was confirmed that she indeed had a BRCA1 mutation. However, since her mother wasn’t diagnosed until her 60s, she thought she had time.

When Ilana was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 45, she felt angry because she had taken steps to prevent ovarian cancer by undergoing surgery to have her ovaries removed. Prophylactic ovary removal, meaning to remove your ovaries before you have cancer, is known to reduce the risk of getting ovarian and breast cancers because hormones that feed cancer are removed. During this prophylactic surgery, Ilana's doctors discovered what looked to be a cancerous tumor coming from her right fallopian tube. While she was still on the operating table, the tumor was sent to the laboratory for identification. The role of the laboratory was put front and center during this process as pathologists and laboratory professionals provided information about whether or not her tumors were indeed cancerous while she was on the operating table. As the gynecologic pathology team looked closely at Ilana’s tumors, they were able to tell the type of ovarian cancer that she had and helped in determining the stage of her cancer.

Ilana encourages patients to become as informed as possible about their diagnosis and details of their disease. From experience, she understands that the more you know about your disease, the better you are prepared to manage it. She also emphasizes to get your information about your disease from reliable sources, such as ASCP Patient Champions, and to not look at statistics online, believing that individuals are a population of one and every person’s diagnosis is unique.

Today, Ilana is an ovarian cancer survivor. She continues to get regular checkups with her oncologist where the laboratory performs a cancer antigen CA-125 blood test that can detect a protein that’s often found on the surface of ovarian cancer cells. This test is done to monitor her health and to make sure there is not a recurrence of cancer. She lives with her diagnosis by helping others and doing meaningful work and giving back to the community working for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and managing its DC chapter and national advocacy and programming. She continues to make a lasting impact in the ovarian cancer community through her work and lives a fulfilling life through her career and being there for her family and children through important milestones in their lives.