September Is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

This is a re-post from 2003. In the 11 years since I first posted this, ovarian cancer has remained the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among American women. Although it only accounts for 3% of all cancer in women, ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other female reproductive system cancer. Fewer women get it than who get breast cancer, but more women die from it. In the absence of tests for early detection, the best chance of surviving this cancer is to pay attention to your body and never let a doctor tell you there’s nothing wrong when you’re sure there is.

Nearly 3 years ago, I started complaining of pelvic pain to any doctor who would listen for more than 30 seconds. I started with my gyn, who noted the pain while pressing on my abdomen during exams; after each exam, she decided it was nothing. The pain was also noted by a PA during my bi-yearly physical, also while pressing on my abdomen. I said ouch, she asked if I had my period, I said yes, and she said, “Oh, I won’t do that anymore.”

At that time, I was also complaining of an ache in my bladder. I went in to both my gyn and my PCP’s office several times, thinking I had a UTI. They would do a test and everything would be normal, and they would send me away, saying I was fine and ignoring the pain I kept talking about.

During the 2 years that my low-malignant ovarian cancer went completely ignored and undiagnosed, I developed other symptoms I would never have associated with ovarian cancer: indigestion, nausea during PMS (which often I mistook for pregnancy), fatigue. All these symptoms went unreported, though, because I was convinced it was all in my head.

Finally, on November 13 of last year, during a regular physical, a doctor I hadn’t seen before – my PCP ironically, but I always ended up seeing someone else – found a mass in my abdomen. He sent me to a GI doctor, who in turn referred me to a new gyn, and I eventually ended up in the office of a gyn oncologist.

I was fortunate. Even though my condition was staged, after surgery, at stage 3a, the cells were low-malignant. That means it wasn’t invasive. If I had had invasive ovarian cancer at that stage, I probably wouldn’t be here right now to be writing about this.

Many, many women are not as lucky as I was.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. This disease so often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late, so it’s important to arm yourself with facts and be prepared to fight for yourself or a woman you love.

According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer accounts for 4 percent of all cancers among women and ranks fifth as a cause of their deaths from cancer. The American Cancer Society statistics for ovarian cancer estimate that there will be 25,400 new cases and 14,300 deaths in 2003. The death rate for this disease has not changed much in the last 50 years.*

Unfortunately, almost 70 percent of women with the common epithelial ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until the disease is advanced in stage, i.e., has spread to the upper abdomen (stage III) or beyond (stage IV). The 5-year survival rate for these women is only 15 to 20 percent, whereas the 5-year survival rate for stage I disease patients approaches 90 percent and for stage II disease patients approaches 70 percent.

* emphasis mine

Know the symptoms:

  • Unexplained change in bowel and/or bladder habits such as constipation, urinary frequency, and/or incontinence
  • Gastrointestinal upset such as gas, indigestion, and/or nausea
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal bloating or swelling
  • A constant feeling of fullness
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormal or postmenopausal bleeding
  • Pain duringintercourseKnowledge is the most important tool you can have. If you are a woman, you are at risk. Know the symptoms, find a good doctor who listens to you, pay attention to your body, and fight for your health.
    Ovarian Cancer . . .It Whispers . . .So Listen!