Dr. Rachel: Why ovarian cancer is hard to catch in its early stages

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NEW ORLEANS -- Medical researchers have been trying for decades to figure out an effective early screening method for ovarian cancer, but at this point, the disease is still hard to catch in its early stages.

"Unfortunately because of the late onset of symptoms, the diagnosis is usually delayed, so over 80 percent of women end up getting diagnosed with ovarian cancer with stage 3 or 4 disease, and at that point it`s very hard to cure," said Dr. Amelia Jernigan with LSU Health Sciences.

But there is some good news: There are risk factors that can help in detecting ovarian cancer, and one of them is genetics.

"If you notice anyone has tubal cancer, ovarian cancer, colon cancer, uterine cancer, breast cancers, those types of things should prompt you to talk to your doctor about getting a genetic evaluation," Jernigan said.

If the evaluation reveals you do have a genetic mutation, there are options. Birth control pills, research shows, cuts your risk about in half.

"So what most people recommend is depending on which mutation you have, by the age of 35 to 40, you start considering having her tubes and ovaries out, as long as you're done childbearing," Jernigan said.

Although it's hard to detect, there have been advancements in the treatment of ovarian cancer.

"In many cases it's gone from being something where you're diagnosed with it then you definitely are going to die, to something that becomes a chronic condition," Jernigan said. "So now we're at the point where most people who get a diagnosis of ovarian cancer are advanced, and even if we put them into remission, most of those women will recur, but we have so many chemotherapeutic options and so many advanced surgical options now, that so many of them will live for many many years."