2015 Archives

SMU student conquers ovarian cancer in time to graduate after receiving care at UT Southwestern Simmons Cancer Center

May 16, 2015

Story courtesy of UT Southwestern Medical Center

By Lori Sundeen Soderbergh
UT Southwestern News

DALLAS – May 16, 2015 – Katie Ballard is graduating Saturday from SMU, having conquered not only her course of studies but a rare ovarian cancer diagnosis that required removing a four-pound tumor.

Katie BallardMs. Ballard, who is receiving a bachelor of arts in journalism, was in the second week of her junior year at the early age of 20 when she noticed she had trouble urinating and was gaining weight. When the pain grew too uncomfortable for Ms. Ballard to sleep, she headed to the emergency room. An ultrasound showed a large pelvic mass, said Dr. Debra Richardson, Assistant Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology, and a gynecologic oncology surgeon at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. After four hours of surgery, Dr. Richardson and her team removed the tumor weighing nearly four pounds.

“It was so much bigger than I thought. It looked like a Thanksgiving turkey,” said Ms. Ballard. One of her ovaries and one fallopian tube were removed, along with more than 30 lymph nodes and other biopsies including her appendix.

The mass was confirmed as ovarian cancer, but testing showed it was still stage IA — confined to one ovary — and had not spread to the lymph nodes. That meant she could avoid chemotherapy often needed in later stages.

“It’s rare to find epithelial ovarian cancer in such a young patient,” said Dr. Richardson, who also serves on the Medical Advisory Board for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. “My first priority was to remove the mass and establish the diagnosis. We found it early, and we are thrilled to see her doing well and graduating from college.”

Ovarian cancer can be difficult to detect in stage 1 because the symptoms are common and non-specific. They can include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, or urinary urgency or frequency. Dr. Richardson recommends women who expe­rience these acute symptoms at least 12 to 15 days a month consult with a doctor.

The early detection also allowed Ms. Ballard to have fertility-sparing surgery that did not require removal of the uterus and ovaries. Ms. Ballard then was able to meet with Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility specialists at UT Southwestern, and undergo oocyte preservation. The procedure freezes egg specimens, making them available for future use in the event of cancer recurrence or other unforeseen issues.

Courtesy of CBS 11 News

“I never expected my life to change so dramatically in five days,” Ms. Ballard said. Five-year survival rates for ovarian cancer are just 44 percent, though women who have stage I ovarian cancer have a greater than 90 percent chance of surviving five years. The American Cancer Society estimates nearly 21,290 new cases of ovarian cancer are expected in the U.S. in 2015, along with an estimated 14,180 deaths.

UT Southwestern oncologists recommend women with epithelial ovarian cancer undergo genetic testing for familial ovarian cancer syndromes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that can predispose women to breast, ovarian and possibly other types of cancer. Genetic testing can also identify genetic mutations showing predisposition to other types of cancer so they can be detected at a treatable stage or prevented altogether.

“It was a relief to learn that the genetic tests were negative,” said Ms. Ballard, who was able to return to college just two weeks after her surgery. “This experience has made me a stronger person and I appreciate my family and friends even more.”

Ms. Ballard says the experience gave her a platform to educate people about ovarian cancer. “A lot of girls are afraid to see a gynecologist,” she said. “Now, my friends are really on top of getting all their tests.”

UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas and one of just 68 NCI-designated cancer centers in the nation. The Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center includes 13 major cancer care programs with a focus on treating the whole patient with innovative treatments, while fostering groundbreaking basic research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide. In addition, the Center’s education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians.

In addition, the Simmons Cancer Center is among only 30 U.S. cancer research centers to be named a National Clinical Trials Network Lead Academic Site, a prestigious new designation by the NCI, and the only Cancer Center in North Texas to be so designated. The designation and associated funding is designed to bolster the cancer center’s clinical cancer research for adults and to provide patients access to cancer research trials sponsored by the NCI, where promising new drugs often are tested.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center

UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty includes many distinguished members, including six who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. The faculty of more than 2,700 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to about 92,000 hospitalized patients and oversee approximately 2.1 million outpatient visits a year.