Chris Evert’s ovarian cancer diagnosis: What to know about prevention

Tennis legend Chris Evert recently revealed that she is battling stage 1C ovarian cancer. The 67-year-old tennis legend who has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles and three Grand Slam doubles titles during her career, opened up about her diagnosis on Twitter and in an ESPN report that she co-wrote with her colleague, Chris McKendry.

“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 posted on the social media account.

Evert, who has been an ESPN analyst for over a decade, still plans to cover the Australian Open, which begins this week. “You will see me appear from home at times during ESPN’s coverage of the Aussie Open,” she wrote on her Twitter account.

Evert learned of her cancer diagnosis last month after undergoing a preventative hysterectomy. She scheduled the procedure after genetic testing discovered she was at increased risk for ovarian cancer, the ESPN report said. The pathology report revealed a malignant tumor was noted on the tennis star’s fallopian tube and required surgery and chemotherapy treatment, according to the report.

The tennis star said in the report, the cancer was not detected anywhere else in her body,

“I’ve lived a very charmed life. Now I have some challenges ahead of me. But, I have comfort in knowing the chemotherapy is to ensure that cancer does not come back”, Evert said in the media report.

Evert shared in the media report that her younger sister, Jeanne Evert Dubin, died from ovarian cancer in February 2020, after she was diagnosed with a later stage of the disease. Jeanne was 62 years old.

The ESPN interview with Evert also pointed out how genetic testing has evolved in the past few years. At the time of Jeanne’s cancer diagnosis, members of the Evert family were not encouraged to undergo genetic testing, because the gene variant that Jeanne had tested for at the time was not considered pathogenic, the media outlet said.

Four years after Jeanne’s diagnosis, as genetic testing has evolved, the BRCA1 gene variant that Jeanne had is now considered pathogenic, which prompted a call to the Evert family members to be tested, the report said.

The recent genetic test revealed Chris Evert had the pathogenic variant of the BRCA1 gene. Health experts explained to Fox News that the BRCA1 gene variant is a marker that helps detect one’s risk for ovarian and breast cancers.

Doctor Stephanie V. Blank, who is a director of gynecologic oncology for the Mount Sinai Health System in New York City, is not involved with Chris Evert’s case but spoke to Fox News about the tennis star’s diagnosis and said, “Chris Evert’s story shows how knowing your family history can allow you to prevent cancer and save your life. If you have a notable family history, get genetic testing and act on positive results, you can greatly reduce ovarian cancer risk by removing the tubes and ovaries.”

Blank, who is also a professor of gynecologic oncology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, told Fox News that a BRCA1 mutation is associated with an approximately 40% risk of ovarian cancer, compared to 1.5 % in the general population.

“She acted on this information, undergoing surgery to reduce her cancer risk, and during this surgery, an occult cancer was discovered, thankfully, at an early stage, which is not common,” she said.

Dr. Blank also told Fox News, “We don’t have effective early detection for ovarian cancer, and so most cases are diagnosed when they have already spread. Early stage ovarian cancer has a much better prognosis and is usually cured.”

The oncology specialist told Fox News that ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage because it does not have a specific hallmark sign or symptom. “Bloating, pelvic pain, urinary frequency and having difficulty eating are common symptoms, but everyone has these at some point, and attribute the issue to something else,” Blank explained.

The gynecologist also said one of the most important things that someone who suspects they have ovarian cancer can do is to seek consultation with a gynecologic oncologist. Blank also explained that the field of genetics is a constantly changing field. Blank said, “Sometimes a person has a variant of uncertain significance — a change in the DNA that may or may not cause a problem. In these cases, it is important to periodically follow up with a genetic specialist to see if the variant has been reclassified.”

As Evert prepares for her chemotherapy treatment, she offered advice on her Twitter account, “Be your own advocate. Know your family’s history. Have total awareness of your body, follow your gut and be aware of changes. Don’t try to be a crusader and think this will pass.”