By Ana Hernandez-Bravo
With almost every month being marked as a “national health observance month” it is easy to lose sight of which what is being observed each month. The big name ones usually tend to focus on breast cancer or heart disease. However, September was proclaimed as National Ovarian Cancer Month by the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, which was founded by Gail Hayward in 1995 who was diagnosed with the cancer herself back in 1989, and by President George W. Bush.
Although ovarian cancer is not very often in the spotlight, those afflicted with this cancer number about 25,000 diagnosis a year and as many as 13,000 deaths. This cancer, according to the American Cancer society, accounts for 3 percent of all cancers among women and is ranked as number four on the lists of cancer related deaths among women.
Ovarian cancer is many times known as the “silent killer” because it is usually diagnosed in the later stages when the cancer is more difficult to treat. That is why the NOCC promotes the phrase “It whispers, so listen.”
While woman are asked to keep annual check ups for cervical cancer and breast cancer, many should also be advised to have a check up for ovarian cancer as well. Since the pap test does not detect ovarian cancer, the annual check ups for women 18 and older should include a annual vaginal exam and an annual rectovaginal exam when aged 35 and above. These exams are designed to feel for abnormal swelling and to detect tenderness. If something is found, doctors can then use sono-graphy and a blood test to determine if the patient has ovarian cancer. New research is being done on a new diagnostic test coined the “ovarian pap test” which should collect cells from the surface of the ovary and the abdomen, much like the cells collected from the cervix during a regular pap smear.
Ovarian cancer is split into three separate tumor groups; epithelial meaning the tumors come from the cells on the outer surface of the ovary, germ cell which come form the cells the produce the actually ova or eggs, and stromal which develop from the connective tissue that holds the ovary in place and the cells the produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.
While all this seems rather technical women should still talk to their doctors about the risks of this cancer. Women should especially have care if there is personal or family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial, prostate or colon cancer, unexplained infertility, no pregnancies, and no history of birth control pill use, use of estrogen without progesterone for long periods of time, live in an industrialized country, and if they are of North American or North European and/or Ashkenazi Jewish population.
Since ovarian cancer is hard to detect it is important to keep an eye out for potential signs of this cancer. These include
· Pain during intercourse
· Unexplained change in bowel and/or bladder habits such as constipation, urinary frequency, and/or incontinence
· Unexplained weight loss or gain
· Pelvic and/or pain, discomfort, bloating, or swelling
· A constant feeling of fullness
· Abnormal or postmenopausal bleeding
· Gastrointestinal upset such as gas, indigestion, and/or nausea
If these signs and symptoms are persistent a woman should go and talk with her doctor. If these symptoms last for 4-6 weeks, women should insist on having a rectovaginal examination.
September is not only meant to bring attention what ovarian cancer is and to educate women about it but it is also a time to support the research, those afflicted, the survivors, and their friends and family. Anyone can purchase a teal ribbon for their car or a teal jelly bracelet to support from the NOCC website www.ovarian.org which proceeds go to further ovarian cancer education and awareness or can find other products at www.thinkingteal.com.
San Diego has a county division of NOCC which can be reached at (858) 259-0650 and there is a help line at 888-ovarian. They can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.