Your Comprehensive Guide to Jewish Ovarian Cancer

Your Comprehensive Guide to Jewish Ovarian Cancer

Introduction – Ovarian Cancer

 

Sharsheret’s mission throughout the years since our founding by Rochelle L. Shoretz has been to improve the lives of both Jewish women and their families through our personalized approach to support and educational outreach.

 

What Is Ovarian Cancer? 

 

Ovarian cancer is a growth of malignant cells that originate in the ovaries. Although it forms in the ovaries, if left untreated the growth may further metastasize directly into the pelvic and abdominal space to other organs, or travel through the bloodstream and/or lymphatic vessels to other areas of the body.

The Risks for Jewish Women

 

The risks of developing hereditary ovarian cancer is significantly higher for Jewish women, as 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries a BRCA gene mutation, over 10 times the rate of the general population. That’s why it’s all the more important that Jewish women and their families not only know the risks, but have the proper screenings and follow ups that fit their medical needs.

Ovarian Cancer Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatments

 

As more women and health professionals become familiar with the procedures for diagnosing ovarian cancer, monitoring one’s health and watching for common symptoms will help women catch potential illnesses in their early stages.

 

These symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often
  • Fatigue
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation or menstrual changes

 

Due to the possibility of cancer growths metastasizing and spreading to other parts of the body, it’s imperative that one experiencing persistent, often lasting two or more weeks, signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer seek out a doctor’s opinion on their health.

 

As of now, there’s no proven way to screen for ovarian cancer that has been demonstrated to improve survival. However, CA-125 blood tests and transvaginal ultrasounds are sometimes recommended, although they are likely to find the cancer at a later stage.

Person writing on clipboard

Testing

Genetic testing can be an important step to knowing your risk. Genetic testing is recommended if you have:

 

  • A strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer
  • A known BRCA1, BRCA2, or other inherited mutation in your family
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry
  • Or a personal history of ovarian or related cancers

 

All individuals with ovarian cancer qualify for genetic testing per the National Comprehensive Cancer Network’s guidelines, regardless of family history or Jewish ancestry.

 

Treatment

 

Treatment options for ovarian cancer can vary, including local treatment methods such as:

  • Surgery, often a full hysterectomy and removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes
  • Chemotherapy

 

Beginning your journey may also involve biomarker testing, which can be an effective way to look at the genes or proteins that may be in the tumor. This can help you understand more about your individual cancer and informs your medical team of what treatment options and methods may work best for your particular case. You can find out more about biomarker testing here.

chemo-treatment

Chemotherapy, which kills fast growing cells, is often a part of the treatment for ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy may be recommended before or after the surgery, depending on how aggressive the cancer is and the stage at diagnosis.

 

Your personal treatment options will depend on many factors, including if/when you plan to have children. Some of these fertility preservation options, which our post from Dr. Ilana Ressler goes over in detail, include:

  • Fertility-sparing surgery for those who have early stages of cancer in only one ovary
  • Egg or embryo freezing
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF)

 

More information and resources are also available from these organizations.

You may also consider complementary methods to your treatment that may relieve or reduce common symptoms.

 

Living With/Life After Ovarian Cancer

 

Going through treatment for ovarian cancer can put a strain not only on a woman’s health, but other aspects of her life. Living with ovarian cancer comes with a number of significant struggles, but Sharsheret is dedicated to providing resources and support.

 

Healthy Living

 

Maintaining a healthy diet along with exercise and taking care of your emotional health becomes even more important when going through treatment for ovarian cancer. Nutrition can come in a variety of forms, but what may be especially important to you is being able to participate in traditional Jewish customs/practices while taking care of your health. That’s why we’ve compiled several webinars, blogs, and other resources including:

 

 

All of these are dedicated to helping women with ovarian cancer and their caregivers maintain a healthy lifestyle and possibly lessen some side effects of treatment, as well as reduce the risk of a recurrence.

Treatment, Clinical Trials, and Studies

 

Knowing who’s on your side and dedicated to providing you the best care possible, along with how and what questions to ask them to understand your options is part of making sure your treatment team and their recommendations will work well for you and your support system.

 

In general, you’ll want to make sure that both you and your caregivers feel comfortable and understood by your treatment team and the associated staff. There are many questions that can help you get a better idea of their communication styles and any specifics regarding emergency protocol, how communication will be handled, and what other services they offer or may be able to refer you to.

 

As for participating in clinical trials and studies, although they play an important part in understanding and treating cancer, it’s ultimately a personal choice. Before choosing whether or not to participate, you can read our resources to serve as a guide for your decision. As an organization, we at Sharsheret participate in studies and evaluations in order to strengthen our programs, which you can find more information on our website.

Close up of female medical professional making notes during seminar. Doctor writing notes in diary during healthcare conference.

Finances and Insurance

 

Understanding insurance coverage and finances while living with a serious illness can be a difficult experience. But that doesn’t mean you and your caregivers have to go it alone when navigating the healthcare system. You can find our tips to avoid common access barriers as well as our other advice and gathered resources such as:

 

 

For your finances, understanding your disability rights and your financial goals will be valuable when learning about and evaluating financial planning strategies. Make a note of the financial assistance that may be available to you and learn how to help ensure your financial stability.

 

Advice for Caregivers

 

Helping to take care of your close friend or family member with ovarian cancer can be an extremely tough task, especially on one’s physical, mental, and emotional health. But just as there are several resources for a woman going through cancer treatment, there are for her support system and caregivers as well.

 

Being a caregiver is centered not only in taking care of the person going through treatment, but may also involve navigating finances and insurance, and determining what diagnostic testing, if any, may need to be pursued by other members of the family. Sharsheret is dedicated to providing the resources and connecting caregivers with others caring for loved ones with ovarian cancer.

 

In addition, our Sponged Foundation Family Focus program is available, where caregivers and family in general can speak to social workers and request additional information.

 

This includes our information and support for male caregivers from Caring Men, tips and other sources of information for communicating about genetics, and dealing with caregiving over long distances.

 

Parenting

 

Caring for children can be an exponentially difficult task when you’re undergoing cancer treatment, but Sharsheret offers a resource called Busy Box, which includes language and age appropriate materials for parents to educate themselves and their children on the impact of ovarian cancer and treatment, along with games and activities to occupy children while you’re undergoing treatment or other waiting periods.

holding hands

Our Resources

 

Although the path ahead may seem daunting, Sharsheret has a number of resources dedicated to helping you and your family determine your next steps. This includes:

 

Reach Out to Sharsheret

 

Experiencing symptoms and receiving a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is a daunting life change, but Sharsheret is here to help. Through our organization, we provide one-on-one and peer support, guidance, financial assistance, and education.

 

At Sharsheret, we believe in advocacy, both personally and in the community as well. We work to expand the knowledge and awareness about the risks of ovarian cancer for Jewish women through our peer support network, and coordinated events with health care providers, local community organizations, synagogues, and coordinated campus programs, among other avenues.

If you or a loved one have been recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer or you’d like more about us, reach out for support or with comments or questions.

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