Ovarian cancer is not one of the silent killers as long thought. The latest research shows there are clear and present danger signs.
Maureen Seiden is determined not to become an ovarian cancer statistic, even after a doctor gave her only five years to live.
She says, "I looked at him and I said that’s not good enough. My children are not married and I plan on seeing grandchildren.”
A member of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, Maureen is on a mission and her goal is to, “scream it out that this is not a silent killer. We have, we have bells that are ringing about it.”
Sooner or later, most women will experience the common symptoms linked to this disease.
Dr. Joseph Lucci III says, "Our studies of women that have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer can identify symptoms for as much as six months in advance.”
These are the key signs:Abdominal discomfort or bloating.
Persistent gastrointestinal upset.
Frequent or urgent urination.
Unexplained weight loss or gain.
Ongoing unusual fatigue.
Unexplained changes in bowel habits.
Maureen says, "I had every symptom."
If warning signs persist for more than two weeks and don’t disappear after treatment insist on a CA-125 blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound exam. They can detect the disease early.
After three bouts of ovarian cancer, Maureen continues to beat the odds.
Ovarian cancer remains the fifth leading cancer killer.
People at the highest risk for ovarian cancer are those over 55 who have a family history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer or suffer infertility at an early age.
Fast Facts:Approximately 20,180 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. It’s the fifth leading cause of cancer death.
Only about 19 percent of ovarian cancers are detected in early stages. Thus, overall five-year survival rates are only about 45 percent.
Women often have early signs of ovarian cancer, but the symptoms are vague and may easily be dismissed.
Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer among American women and the fifth leading cause of cancer death. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates 20,180 women will be diagnosed with the cancer. About 15,310 will die from it.
Ovarian cancer is more common after menopause. Although it can occur in younger women, about 66 percent of affected women are 55 and older. The cancer is also slightly more common in white women than in African-American women. Some other risk factors include: beginning menstruation before 12, menopause after 50, having no children, having a first child after 30 or long-term use of fertility drugs. Personal history of breast cancer or a family history of ovarian, breast or colorectal cancer is also associated with an increased risk for ovarian cancer.
Surviving Ovarian Cancer – The Need for Early Diagnosis
Overall, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is about 45 percent. If the cancer is found at early stages (before it has spread outside the ovary), five year survival rates are much higher at 94 percent. But according to the American Cancer Society, only about 19 percent of the cancers are detected in early stages.
Researchers say two factors contribute to the later diagnosis for ovarian cancer – (1) the lack of highly reliable and inexpensive screening tests, and (2) the presumed belief that there are no early warning signs. However, studies show many women experience symptoms of the cancer for weeks to months before being diagnosed. Some of the most common symptoms experienced by women with early stages of ovarian cancer include abdominal pain or pressure, gas or bloating, abdominal swelling, unusual vaginal bleeding, pelvic pressure, increased urinary frequency or urgency, incontinence, and lack of energy. Some women may also experience pain during intercourse, low back pain, shortness of breath, unexplained changes in bowel habits and unexplained weight gain or loss. As the cancer progresses and starts to spread, it can lead to an obvious abdominal mass and/or bowel obstruction.
While signs of ovarian cancer may be present, they may not be enough of a warning for women or doctors to pay attention. The problem is that the symptoms are common and vague. Some women attribute the problems to fluctuating hormone levels, menopause or stress associated with changes in family responsibilities. However, Joseph Lucci, III, M.D., Gynecologic Oncologist with the University of Miami Sylvester, Comprehensive Cancer Center, says if, despite treatment, the symptoms persist for two or more weeks, women should seek advice from a gynecologist and ask for an examination and screening. Some of the tests used for ovarian cancer screening include a rectovaginal exam, transvaginal ultrasound and CA-125 blood test.
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition is leading a national educational campaign, called “Break the Silence,” to make women aware of the seriousness of ovarian cancer and to watch for early signs of the disease. A recent survey by the group found 54 percent of women haven’t talked with their doctor about ovarian cancer and 40 percent are not aware of the risk factors.
Web ResourcesAmerican Cancer Society Web site
For general information on ovarian cancer signs, diagnosis and treatment:
National Cancer Institute Web site
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition Web site
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Web site