Chrissie Evert preparing to serve at tennis

As we have all been fixed to the Australian Open Tennis, news has come out that the famous former grand slam winner and professional tennis player, Chris Evert, was recently diagnosed with stage 1c Ovarian Cancer.

Whilst no one can consider themselves lucky to have been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, this early diagnosis puts Chrissie in a relatively fortunate more position. 

This discovery was made when a tumour was found on her fallopian tube during a preventative hysterectomy. It turned out to be malignant, but had not yet spread to other parts of her body.

She is now undergoing chemotherapy to make sure the cancer does not come back.

The Silent Killer

Ovarian Cancer killed Chrissie’s younger sister Jeanne Evert Dubin, also a former professional tennis player, in February 2020. Jeanne was diagnosed at a late stage, and the disease had already spread. Despite undergoing gruelling, devastating treatment she only survived for two and a half years post her diagnosis.

Chrissie was there throughout all of Jeanne’s treatment. She has remained vigilant of her own health and undertook regular health checks, but none of them pointed to this diagnosis. 

For most women, including Chrissie, there are no noticeable symptoms. The vague symptoms are virtually impossible to detect in the early stage.

BRCA Testing in Ovarian Cancer

Most Ovarian Cancer patients undergo testing for BRCA1 and Jeanne tested negative to the currently known variants associated with genetic predisposition to the disease. At that time family members were not encouraged to undertake genetic testing themselves. Recent research has discovered that the BRCA variant the Jeanne carried is one which increases the risk of developing certain cancers. (Notably Ovarian and Breast Cancer).

At the end of October Chrissie received a phone call saying there was a change in the interpretation of Jeanne’s genetic report. She immediately undertook testing herself which came back positive for the same BRCA variant. 

Following discussions with her doctor, Chrissie had a hysterectomy in early December. It was supposed to be a proactive move, a preventative measure  and she chose the hysterectomy as Jeanne had Ovarian Cancer, with the breast decision yet to be made.

When her doctor called to say they found a malignant tumour and they would have to go back to remove lymph nodes and other tissue it was a long terrifying wait.

Stage 1 versus Stage 3 Ovarian Cancer

Chris was operated on again on the 13th December and waited to find out if it was Stage 1 or stage 3 – with two very different prognosis.

On December the 15th the diagnosis came back Stage 1, the cancer had been removed during the hysterectomy and following chemotherapy, there is a 90% chance that her cancer will not return. 

The genetic information that was left behind for future testing has undoubtedly lead to Chris’s early detection and will probably save her life.

It needs to be noted that only about 20% of Ovarian Cancer is related to hereditary genetics. Genetic testing is only available to close family relatives of people diagnosed with cancer who test positive to a malignant variant. 

An early detection blood test for population screening, is still the number one thing that would change survival from Ovarian Cancer.

Author: Madelyn Duckmanton

Madelyn is the Chair of the Letitia Linke research foundation. After losing her daughter, Letitia Linke, to Ovarian Cancer, she has continued Letitia’s work to raise awareness of Ovarian Cancer and generate funds to support research into an early detection test.