By Pat Carragher - January 24, 2022
Former tennis champion Chris Evert recently announced she was diagnosed with stage 1C ovarian cancer. In a piece co-written for ESPN, the 67-year-old said a malignant tumor was found following a preventive hysterectomy.
On the day the story published, Evert tweeted, “I wanted to share my stage 1 ovarian cancer diagnosis and the story behind it as a way to help others. I feel very lucky that they caught it early and expect positive results from my chemo plan.”
Evert’s sister, Jeanne Evert Dubin, died from ovarian cancer in February 2020 at age 62. When her sister’s genetic report showed a susceptibility to certain cancers, Evert underwent her own genetic test. The test revealed that she had a variant of the BRCA1 gene, which led her to undergo the preventive hysterectomy.
“Be your own advocate. Know your family’s history. Have total awareness of your body, follow your gut and be aware of changes,” Evert said. “Don’t try to be a crusader and think this will pass.”
According to Dr. Robert Wenham, chair of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Gynecologic Oncology Program, one in five women who develop ovarian cancer will have an inherited gene that increased their risk of developing the disease.
The risk of having an inherited predisposition for cancer depends upon the type of cancer. It should be stressed that most cancers are sporadic, meaning they develop without a known genetic predisposition.
“For some people they can inherit genes, which can increase the risk of developing cancer during their lifetime,” said Wenham. “That risk can be influenced by the genetic mutation in the gene in which it is found, as well as aspects of that person’s history and family history. Everyone should discuss their family history with their doctor who can help decide whether genetic testing or referral should be done.”
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 20,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States this year. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
Wenham says hysterectomy is not necessary but may make sense in some patients. There has been increased interest in removing the fallopian tubes at an earlier age and removing the ovaries at a later age since most of these cancers are thought now to arise within the fallopian tube.
“This remains investigational and controversial,” said Wenham. “The risk of developing ovarian type cancer can be upwards to 40% with certain genetic mutations. Removal of the tube and ovary can decrease the risk close to the general population risk, which is about 2%.”
Evert hopes her story inspires women to be aware of their bodies and to get screened for cancer before it’s too late.
“We need to have these conversations,” said Evert. “Ovarian cancer is a very deadly disease. Any information is power.”