"If the drug continues to work, I could survive on it for a very long time," DeWilfond marvels.
And that’s a major deal. No one wants cancer, but the ovarian kind in particular can seem like the worst-case scenario. In fact, it’s the most fatal gynecologic cancer. That’s because its symptoms are subtle, so it usually isn’t caught until it has spread to the surrounding tissue, making it more difficult to treat. Just 20% of women with ovarian cancer are curedmeaning the illness never comes backafter undergoing surgery and chemo.
But lately there’s been reassuring news: Death rates from the disease have been decreasing (1.7% per year since 2002, according to new data). And thanks to the latest breakthroughs, even women with more advanced cancer are living longer than ever.
"Short of finding a cure, that’s our goal: to turn ovarian cancer into a manageable illness. We’re on our way," says Linda Duska, MD, associate professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Virginia. Here’s why:
Fewer women are getting the disease
The rate of new cases of ovarian cancer has declined by 1% each year since 1992 (about 22,000 women will be diagnosed this year)possibly because so many women today are on the Pill, says Deborah Armstrong, MD, associate professor of oncology and OB-GYN at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center in Baltimore.
The Pill prevents ovulation; the fewer times a woman ovulates over a lifetime, the lower her risk of ovarian cancer.
Surgeons are operating smarter
In the past, if you were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you’d typically have just your ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus removed, even if the cancer had spreaddoctors feared that the risks of cutting into additional organs outweighed the benefits. But surgeons today are getting more aggressive, seeking to remove all evidence of cancer from the get-go, says Barbara Goff, MD, director of gynecologic oncology at the University of Washington. "Removing every last bit can make a difference in survival rates," says Dr. Goff, "and maybe even cure rates."