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Group focuses on ovarian cancer education efforts
Awareness efforts go hand in hand with research
Building awareness of the signs and symptoms for ovarian cancer is the mission of The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition based in Boca Raton, FL. While other organizations raise money for research, the coalition uses its funds to educate the general public and physicians.
There are no early detection tests for ovarian cancer; and by the time there are symptoms, the cancer usually is in an advanced stage, says Shelly Rozenberg, community relations director for The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Only about 10% of ovarian cancer is found in the early stages.
Women need to know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and they need to know their body, says Rozenberg. In this way, they can see their physician at the first hint that there is a problem. "We say it whispers, so listen. The symptoms are so silent," she explains.
Usually, a woman who is bloated is diagnosed as having gas or some other health problem that is causing the bloating. Often she goes from physician to physician until she is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, but it usually is not the first thing physicians look for because the symptoms are so reflective of other health problems.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer that every woman should know include:
• 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;
• abnormal or postmenopausal bleeding;
• pain during intercourse.
"Often, women will put their pants on and not be able to close them. That [can be] a sign," says Rozenberg.
Women who know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer can be proactive, says Rozenberg. In that way, when a physician tells them not to worry because it’s just hormones, they can ask to be tested, she says.
Ultrasound can be used to examine the ovaries for malignancies. It uses high-frequency sound waves to create pictures of the area being examined to differentiate healthy tissue from fluid-filled cysts and tumors. There also is a blood test that measures the level of a tumor marker called CA-125 in the bloodstream. More than 80% of women with advanced ovarian cancer will have an elevated CA-125 level.
Women at high risk and those older than age 35 should routinely have a rectovaginal exam where the physician inserts fingers in the rectum and vagina simultaneously to feel for abnormal swelling and to determine tenderness. This is done during the annual vaginal exam. Women at high risk also should talk to their physician about having a transvaginal sonography, says Rozenberg.
It’s important for women to know their risk for ovarian cancer so that they can be more vigilant in detecting the disease. According to The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, women with one or more of the following risk factors have an increased chance of developing ovarian cancer and should be more observant in watching for symptoms:
• personal or family history of breast, ovarian, endometrial, prostate, or colon cancer;
• hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or syndrome;
• increasing age;
• unexplained infertility, no pregnancies, and no history of birth control pill usage;
• use of high-dose estrogen for long periods without progesterone may be a risk factor;
• North American or North European heritage and/or Ashkenazi Jewish heritage;
• living in an industrialized country.
The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition has 46 divisions throughout the United States that are volunteer-run. Most have a speaker’s bureau to help educate the public. The organization also has a lot of literature available. During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, these local divisions gladly partner with health care facilities, says Rozenberg.
For more information about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month or ovarian cancer education, contact:
• Shelly Rozenberg, Community Relations Director, The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, 500 N.E. Spanish River Blvd., Suite 14, Boca Raton, FL 33431. Telephone: (561) 393-0005. Web site: www.ovarian.org.