I was at an event a couple of weeks ago, volunteering for my support group, Pink Ribbon Girls, which provides housekeeping, meals and other services for breast cancer patients in southwest Ohio. A woman dressed in teal approached our table and asked if we provided services for women with ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, we can’t because of the nature of our funding, we explained. She responded angrily, “This is why people hate pink.”
I tried to explain to her that as someone with metastatic cancer, I am dedicated personally to helping people with all types of cancers. That I understood as someone with an underfunded cancer – metastatic breast cancer research receives about 3-5 percent of all cancer funding. But she still was angry, and she had a point. Everywhere you turn, you hear about breast cancer and organizations supporting survivors. Other cancers, such as ovarian, don’t share the spotlight.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, so I’ll do my best to shed some light on this sneaky and deadly disease. According the US Department of Health and Human Services, “Every year, more than 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which is the fifth leading cause of cancer death for women and accounts for more than 14,000 deaths a year.”
Unfortunately there are no reliable, early screening methods for ovarian cancer, so about 77 percent of all cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage. Pap smears do not detect it. Current screening methods include pelvic exams and transvaginal ultrasound. If cancer is detected, your doctor will order a biopsy. A blood test called CA-125, which measures a protein found on cancer cells, can be used to determine how treatment is working. I just saw an announcement about a promising study in the UK that tracked the results of CA-125 with ultrasounds, based on a mathematical formula called Risk of Ovarian Cancer Algorithm. ROCA, which was developed using a database of CA-125 test results from thousands of women in the United States and Sweden. Like breast and other cancers, the road to early detection and a cure, however, does not seem to be happening quickly enough.
Here are some common signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer to watch:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary urgency or frequency
Less common symptoms, which could also be caused by other benign problems, include
- Upset stomach
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Menstrual changes
- Unexplained changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
- Ongoing unusual fatigue
Experts recommend that if these symptoms persist for more than two weeks to consult your gynocologist.
To all of our teal sisters, I want you to know I support you and am praying for a cure, as well as better methods for early detection. Let’s spread the word during this month!
For more information about the disease, support and advocacy, visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance at http://www.ovariancancer.org.