“How do I know if I have ovarian cancer?” the question most asked by women about the disease that, for years, was called the silent killer. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related death among U.S. women and yet, most women know very little about it.
What you should know:
1. Every woman is at risk.
2. One is 72 women will develop ovarian cancer; one in 95 women will die from it.
3. Increased risk factors:
• Personal history of breast cancer
• Family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
• BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, responsible for 5-10% of ovarian cancers. Women of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at higher risk of carrying these mutations.
4. There is no screening tool, not even the PAP, so it is critical that women recognize the symptoms as early as possible.
• Stage I recurrence rate is only 10%.
• Stage III or IV (about 75% of cases) recur 85-95% of the time. Their 5-year survival rate is only 46%.
5. 95% of women with ovarian cancer experience symptoms, 90% at early stage. Symptoms:
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full too quickly
• Urinary urgency or frequency
Other symptoms: fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities.
What you should do:
If you exhibit persistent symptoms for more than a few weeks and this is not normal for your body, see a gynecologist. Your exam may include a CA-125 blood test, pelvic exam, and a trans-vaginal ultrasound. The only conclusive way to determine if it is cancer is by performing a biopsy.
Help spread the word. Most women with ovarian cancer were misdiagnosed for years while their cancer spread. An earlier diagnosis is a woman’s best hope for a good prognosis.
Annette Mattern is a 21-year survivor of ovarian cancer and recently survived breast cancer. She is the founder and president of the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Arizona and serves on the board of directors of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. Her book on survival, Outside The Lines of Love, Life, and Cancer, is available on www.amazon.com.