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Endometrial Cancer Survivor
|Barbara Connelly, Woodinville, Washington|
When people ask Barbara Connelly if she’s ever had cancer, she has to stop and think. “Oh yes, I did have cancer … for a week,” she says.
In 1999, Barbara went to see her primary care doctor, Dr. Mary Laya, at the Women’s Health Care Center at University of Washington Medical Center – Roosevelt. “Dr. Laya said that my uterus felt a little thicker than it should have,” Barbara recalls. “So she sent me to UW Medical Center for an ultrasound.
Dr. Vicki Mendiratta, an obstetrician/gynecologist from UW Medical Center, thought the lining was thicker than normal. “She thought the ultrasound suggested the need for a biopsy,” Barbara recalls. “She did the biopsy and made the diagnosis. Everyone, including the doctors, was surprised by the diagnosis of endometrial cancer.”
Barbara has no family history of any cancer and maintains a very healthy weight, eats a nutritious diet, and exercises regularly. In essence, she has no risk factors for endometrial cancer.
“I give a great deal of credit to Dr. Laya, who felt the slight difference,” Barbara says. It was her first visit with Dr. Laya in fact, having just changed providers because her prior physician performed annual exams rather “perfunctorily,” she says.
Dr. Laya identified Barbara’s cancer at a very early stage and referred her to Dr. Barbara Goff at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, who performed a hysterectomy to remove Barbara’s cancer.
Completely reassured that she is free of cancer, Barbara says: “Dr. Goff told me that the surgery would take care of my cancer and that I’d have nothing more to worry about. So, I don’t worry! That’s the advantage of having access to good medical care. And I was just lucky, too. I got the easiest possible route to cure.”
Because she had no risk factors for her disease, Dr. Goff enrolled Barbara in a study conducted by the Gynecologic Oncology Group (GOG) in which tumors were sent to a special tumor bank for evaluation at a later date hoping to identify differences in endometrial tumors between those who have a family history and those who do not.
“Barbara’s case is very unusual,” says Dr. Goff. “Most cases of endometrial cancer will occur in women who are significantly overweight, never had children, and often diabetic and/or hypertensive.”
The biggest risk factor for endometrial cancer is obesity and those women who are more than 50 pounds over weight have a ten-fold increase in developing endometrial cancer.
“However, even if you don’t have risk factors, you can still get this cancer,” Goff says. “This case illustrates the importance of routine medical care and having access to specialists, as this is the best way to diagnose cancers early and then treat them appropriately.”