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August 31, 2010
Everyone knows that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, when the pink is in full-force more than usual. But how many people know that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, along with Childhood Cancer and Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month (among others)? For the most deadly of all gynecologic cancers, this is a month that seeks to educate people and raise awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and what can be done to encourage research.
In 2010, the National Cancer Institute estimates that in the United States, nearly 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and almost 14,000 women will die from the disease. Unfortunately, a large majority of ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an advanced stage because the symptoms are so nonspecific and both women and doctors do not think of ovarian cancer when they occur. Many women don't even know what to look for with ovarian cancer since education and awareness about the disease are not as widespread as other cancers. A screening test is not available for this type of cancer so early diagnosis is key to survival.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can include abdominal bloating and distention, gastrointestinal problems, early satiety, changes in bowel habits, lower back pain and pain with intercourse. With ovarian cancer, these symptoms tend not to wax and wane; they tend to be persistent and gradually worsen over time. If you have these symptoms that do not go away, talk to your doctor about getting a transvaginal ultrasound, CA-125 blood test and a thorough vaginal and rectal exam. A regular Pap smear does NOT screen for ovarian cancer, and for a variant of ovarian cancer, primary peritoneal carcinoma, the tumors are not necessarily on the ovaries and cannot be felt during a regular gyno exam. A CA-125 is not a diagnostic test for ovarian cancer because this tumor marker can be elevated for a number of reasons; it is best used to monitor response to treatment in someone already diagnosed with the disease.
You know your body best, so pay attention. Many women have presented their doctors with these problems only to be told it was due to menopause, high cortisol levels or age, and then are later diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. Speak up and request further testing if you experience these symptoms. It very well could save your life.
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