According to The Foundation for Women’s Cancer and the American Cancer Society, “It is estimated that there will be about 98,000 new cases diagnosed and approximately 30,000 deaths from gynecologic cancers in the United States during 2015.” According to renowned board certified gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Sharyn N. Lewin, MD (Medical Director, Department of Gynecologic Oncology, Holy Name Medical Center and Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital) “Cervical cancer can be completely prevented in the United States if women had pap smears”, but according to a recent survey only about 52% of women visited the OBGYN in 2014.
Dr. Sharyn N. Lewin, MD was kind enough to join me for an interview yesterday to discuss this recent health survey, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer prevention, the most common symptoms women with ovarian cancer or cervical cancer experience, treatment options for advanced gynecologic cancers and much more.
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about the recent survey that took place and the key findings?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD: “Yes, there was a survey that was sponsored by Genentech and the Foundation for Women’s Cancer. Over 1,000 across the United States were surveyed and interestingly women were more likely to see their eye doctor, dentist or even their hair stylist than their OBGYN on a yearly basis.”
Candace Rose: The survey found that only about 52% of women visited the OBGYN last year. Why do you think this is and how can we increase those numbers?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD: “Well, we know that women are very busy and often prioritize their children’s healthcare, their partner or their husband’s healthcare, even many other family members before themselves.
There’s also been a lot of conflicting information for women about the importance of this visit, so it’s really a wonderful time to stress that no matter how old you are, women really do need to see their OBGYN on a yearly basis.”
Candace Rose: How prevalent are gynecologic cancers? Who is most affected by cervical and ovarian cancers?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD: “We do know that every nine minutes in the United States a woman is diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer. The visit to the OBGYN is such an important time to prevent and screen for these cancers, some of which can definitely be prevented. While 80% of women who were surveyed were definitely concerned about cervical and ovarian cancer, less than 10% of these women actually discussed these worries with their doctors.
Cervical cancer can be completely prevented in the United States if women had pap smears. Any early changes in the cervix can definitely be detected and treated way before they become a cancer.
It’s also important to talk and think about the vaccine against the human papillomavirus virus. Women should talk about their family histories and figure out who in their family has had cancer. It’s an important conversation to have with their doctors. There may be genetic risk factors that women have for these cancers, so these annual visits are such an important time to help discuss, screen and prevent cervical cancer, potentially even uterine, ovarian cancer, breast, colon cancer – many cancers that really can affect women.”
Candace Rose: What are some of the most common symptoms that women with cervical or ovarian cancer may experience?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD: “Women who have cervical cancer, if they have symptoms it’s usually advanced. Early on there can be abnormalities in the cervix that may not have any symptoms. They’re detected on pap smears. We know that pap smears are such an effective screening tool, and that’s why it’s so important for women to go to their OBGYNs and be screened because we definitely want to treat these abnormalities in the cervix way before they become a cancer. If a cancer of the cervix is advanced, women may have abnormal bleeding, bleeding after intercourse, any abnormal discharge or even pelvic pain.
Unfortunately with ovarian cancer there isn’t an effective screening mechanism. We do know that if women have any repetitive symptoms of abdominal or pelvic pain, bloating, feeling full too quickly, any difficulty with urination, if those symptoms happen on a repetitive basis it may signal ovarian cancer, so it’s so important to see your doctor right away and have the appropriate imaging and testing done to see whether or not a cancer is present.”
Candace Rose: What treatment options are available for women with advanced cervical or ovarian cancers?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD: “There are a lot of good treatment options available. Of course we want to try and prevent these cancers or even detect them at very early stages. For women with ovarian cancer for example, it’s so important that these women see a GYN oncologist and have a thorough surgery to remove all visible cancer, followed by what’s called intraperitoneal chemotherapy or chemotherapy in the belly.
For women with cervical cancer there is excellent chemotherapy and radiation, even what are called fertility-sparing procedures that can help preserve a women’s reproductive potential. We do know that for women with advanced or recurrent cervical cancer, even some types of advanced ovarian cancer, there are FDA approved drugs like Avastin in combination with chemotherapy that can be used for these cancers. There are a lot of options for women, it’s just important to really speak to your doctor about particular side effects and whether or not you’re a candidate for these different treatment options.”
Candace Rose: Well, thank you so much, Dr. Lewin. Where can we go for more information?
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD: “FoundationforWomensCancer.org is a wonderful website that talks about the signs and symptoms of these cancers, how to prevent them and certainly where to go for help and more information.”