Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Thousands of Canadian women are currently living with ovarian cancer. It is the 5th most common cancer in women today, and by the end of this year the number of those diagnosed with the disease is expected to reach an estimated 2,800.

There are several myths that surround ovarian cancer. For example, many women believe that having regular pap testing can actually detect ovarian cancer early. However, contrary to that belief, pap tests can only screen for cervical cancer by detecting changes to the cells of the cervix. When it comes to ovarian cancer, it can only be detected from a pap smear if it is in an advanced stage. A transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test known as CA-125 can also both be useful diagnostic tools; however, there is no one definitive test that can be used to determine whether or not ovarian cancer is present when it’s pre-symptomatic. Another myth that is commonly associated with ovarian cancer is that the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) vaccine can prevent it – however, this is not the case. While the HPV vaccine can protect against genital warts and cervical cancer, it does not protect against ovarian cancer.

As mentioned, CA-125 blood testing and transvaginal ultrasounds are currently the two main diagnostic tools used to help detect or monitor ovarian cancer, though they are not conclusive. When your CA-125 levels are high, this does not necessarily mean that you have ovarian cancer. Having elevated CA-125 levels could mean the recurrence of a tumour/malignancy – however, those elevated levels can also be the result of a number of other non-cancerous health factors, too. If your CA-125 levels have decreased, this typically indicates that cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy, has been effective.

Ovarian cancer typically affects women over the age of 55. Its’ cause, however, is unknown; though there are certain risk factors one should pay attention to. Women also have a higher chance of of developing ovarian cancer if there is a history of it in their family.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often non-specific, and individuals with ovarian cancer may not even be aware that they have it. Common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, feeling full quite quickly after eating, abdominal or pelvic pain, as well as urgent/frequent urination. That being said, it is always important to remember that just because you have some or all of these symptoms does not mean you have ovarian cancer.

This is why, as part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Dr. Ali Ghahary and physicians from all across the country, as well as Ovarian Cancer Canada, are hoping to incase awareness on this deadly disease as well as find screening improvements, which will then hopefully lead to a decrease in the ovarian cancer death rate.

If you would like more information on ovarian cancer, you can visit Ovarian Cancer Canada’s website at ovariancanada.org. Also be sure to follow Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter and Instagram to join in on the conversation about #OvarianCancerAwareness.

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Prevention of Pancreatic Cancer

Ali Ghahary - Prevention of Pancreatic CancerPancreatic cancer affects as many as 5,000 Canadians each year and is one of the deadliest forms of cancer that an individual can be diagnosed with. Because of the way in which the pancreas is positioned in the body (deep in the abdomen and in front of the spine), symptoms of pancreatic cancer will often be silent until the cancer itself has metastasized, which makes it a difficult cancer to treat.

Once the cancer has metastasized, signs and symptoms that a patient might experience include abdominal pain that radiates to the back, lack of appetite, weight loss that is unintended, fatigue, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin). With pancreatic cancer it is also not uncommon to develop a new-onset of diabetes, blood clots, and even depression. As many other health conditions can cause similar symptoms, it is still important to book an appointment with your family doctor. If your family doctor is unavailable, Dr. Ali Ghahary welcomes walk-in patients at Brentwood Medical Clinic in Burnaby.

While survival rates of pancreatic cancer have increased over the years, it is still considered to be a form of cancer that is predominantly incurable. Currently, the one-year survival rate of patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer is 20%, while the five-year survival rate is just 7%.

In order to diagnose pancreatic cancer, your physician may order a blood test. Blood testing can check the levels of certain proteins in your blood. If these are elevated, it may be an indicator of pancreatic cancer. Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI’s and ultrasounds may also be used, and a biopsy may also need to be performed in order to further test certain cells and tissus.

Ali Ghahary - Blood Test for Pancreatic Cancer

There is no definitive way to stop a patient from being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. However, there are certain preventative measures a patient can take in order to help prevent and lower their risk of developing pancreatic cancer in the future, such as making certain lifestyle changes.

One of the biggest causes of pancreatic cancer is smoking. Quitting smoking can significantly lessen the risk of pancreatic cancer, and it can also have a positive impact on many other aspects of your health. For some helpful information on smoking cessation, visit Dr. Ali Ghahary’s article on Medium.com.

It’s also important to stay at a healthy weight. Individuals who are obese are at an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer, although it can still affect individuals of all shapes and sizes and is a type of cancer that does not discriminate one way or the other. Dr. Ali Ghahary shares insightful tips on the importance of healthy eating, and even recommends specific low-carb diets, which you can read more about on his blog on WordPress.com.

Lastly, limit alcohol intake. Heavy consumption of alcohol can lead to cirrhosis – a degenerative disease of the liver, which can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

Cancer Detection and Treatment

Ali Ghahary, a family doctor in Vancouver who currently practices at Burnaby’s Brentwood Medical Clinic, recommends patients have annual check-ups with their physician. Regular exams are a helpful way for your physician to keep your medical records current, ensuring your immunizations are up to date, and reviewing any health concerns you might have.

The most common type of tests that Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients for include blood testing to check hormone levels, thyroid function, and even diabetes, in addition to recommended preventive screening tests as outlined by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, such as screening for prostate cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. When it comes to a cancer diagnosis, early detection plays a pivotal role in getting effective treatment.

Cancer Detection and Treatment

For those who are newly diagnosed with cancer, it can be an overwhelming and life-altering event, and the biggest question that one may have is “What next?” That is where physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary come in. General practitioners such as himself will often act as the middleman between patients and their cancer care team, which includes oncologists, in-home nursing care, as well as simply being there as part of the patient’s general support system and answering any questions a patient or their families might have in relation to the diagnosis. Dr. Ali Ghahary may also recommend that patients seek outside help in effort to better cope with their diagnosis. This can be done by referring the patient to outpatient mental health facilities for counselling, or by recommending support groups that are in or near the patient’s community. It is a good idea for the patient to include their loved ones when going through this kind of therapy. Click here for a list of support programs offered by the BC Cancer Agency.

When it comes to managing cancer, treatment is individualized specifically to the patient and is dependent on the type of cancer that they have and the stage of which it’s in. Below, Dr. Ali Ghahary outlines the different types of cancer treatments that are available and what the patient can potentially expect in terms of different side effects.

ChemotherapyChemotherapy
This is a common method of cancer treatment, and may be used as a standalone choice of treatment or in conjecture with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy works by stopping or slowing down the growth of cancer cells, and it is also often used to shrink tumours prior to the patient receiving radiation therapy. When it is used for this purpose, this is known as neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

Chemotherapy comes in many different forms. The most common ways in which chemotherapy is administered is via injection, intravenously, and even orally.

While chemotherapy slows down or kills off cancer cells, it can also lead to the destruction of your body’s healthy cells, such as cells in your intestines, mouth, and even the cells that cause your hair to grow, thus making hair loss a common side effect of cancer treatment. When healthy cells become damaged you may also experience other side effects such as mouth sores and nausea.

To combat the symptoms associated with chemotherapy, Dr. Ali Ghahary will typically recommended anti-emetic drugs, such as Ondanestron – a drug that is commonly prescribed to cancer patients. While it may take a bit of time before you are feeling better, these side effects do tend to go away all together once the chemotherapy treatment has been completed.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation
Similar to that of medical imaging such as an X-ray or CT scan, radiation therapy kills cancer cells by exposing them to high doses of radiation – and continues to kill those cells for weeks, even months, after radiation treatment has ended.

The most common type of radiation therapy that is given is known as EBRT, or External Beam Radiation Therapy, which is done through a machine that aims its radiation at your cancer. The way in which the radiation procedure is performed is dependent on where your cancer is. As opposed to chemotherapy, which circulates throughout your body’s bloodstream, radiation will only be given to the specific area in your body that is affected – for example, if you have lung or breast cancer, the radiation will only go to your chest.

Similar to chemotherapy, patients who undergo radiation therapy may exhibit the same symptoms – with nausea and hair loss being the most common, as well as fatigue and swelling or scarring of the treated areas – which is also known as radiation dermatitis. If you experience scarring or burning as a result of radiation, it is important to keep your skin moisturized by using fragrance-free products. Your doctor may be able to recommend a good ointment to use for sensitive skin, or may refer you to a dermatologist for treatment. It is also important to bathe with lukewarm water rather than scalding hot water, do not use heating pads, and do not wear tight clothing on or around the affected areas. Instead, opt for looser fitting, comfortable clothing. It’s also crucial that you do not expose the areas to the sun while you are still undergoing treatment, as the sun’s UV rays can lead to further damage of the skin.

You can find more cancer resources by following Dr. Ali Ghahary on Twitter at @DrAliGhahary or by visiting his website at alighahary.ca.