Even though ovarian cancer is relatively rare compared to breast cancer, the survival rates overall are dramatically worse (about 21,000 in the U.S. are diagnosed yearly and about 15,000 die each year.) The statistics for those who are diagnosed at an early stage are much different. Women diagnosed at stage I have a five year survival rate of about 95%.
Ovarian cancer strikes women usually over age 45. For years it was believed that ovarian cancer had no symptoms until it was advanced. In recent years, because of a large national survey, this has been disproved. I took part in that survey. I am one of the lucky ones who is still here 14 years after diagnosis. At the age of 47, I had symptoms of lower right pelvic pain and heavy periods. My ob/gyn couldn't feel anything upon exam but she sent me for a transvaginal ultrasound. It showed a large mass on my ovary. She also did what is called a CA125 blood test. While this test isn't a good screening tool for the general public, it can be used effectively as one of several tests for ovarian cancer. Mine was 400 (normal is under 35). She then scheduled a CT scan which confirmed the mass and raised suspicions of ovarian cancer. She then did one of the most important things an ob/gyn can do - she referred me to a specialist - a gynecologic oncologist. I learned later that these specialists are few and far between and when initial surgery is done by them, chances for survival go up.
I was diagnosed at Stage IIB ovarian cancer and Stage IB uterine cancer. I also learned that a diagnosis with these two primaries is not uncommon. I did six months of chemotherapy. In the meantime, I became part of a national awareness program for ovarian cancer. I met many women in that community and have lost many many friends to this disease. In honor of those friends and National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, here are the symptoms according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance: bloating; pelvic or abdominal pain; urinary urgency or frequency; difficulty eating or feeling full quickly. It's important to note that pap smears, as a general rule, DO NOT detect ovarian cancer. If any of these symptoms are unusual and persist for 2 weeks or more, see a doctor. If ovarian cancer, or any other gyn cancer is suspected, consult with a gynecologic oncologist. It's also important to note that breast cancer survivors and/or those with a history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer in their family, are at higher risk for ovarian cancer. Learn more at www.ovariancancer.org. Knowledge is power and I believe I am alive today because of early detection and expert medical care.
I believe publicizing the symptoms and facts about ovarian cancer can save lives. September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and while ovarian cancer is relatively rare, the statistics are much worse than breast cancer, proportionately. Also, this is a women's issue. Too many women have gone undiagnosed due to lack of knowledge by primary doctors and even ob/gyns about ovarian cancer. Women need to be proactive regarding their health and to do that, they need information.
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