Ovarian cancer: a little less silent than before.
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Hey, here are some frightening facts to kick off your weekend! Ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among American women, and is the deadliest gynecological cancer. There are no screening tests for ovarian cancer, and until recently, it was widely believed to be a silent killer, with no early-stage symptoms. Only 19 percent of women with ovarian cancer are diagnosed before the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries.
But on Wednesday, the American Cancer Society and several other groups issued some hope for more early diagnoses: an official list of symptoms linked to ovarian cancer. Contrary to earlier wisdom, these symptoms can arrive in the early stages of the disease. Without further ado, they are:
-pelvic or abdominal pain
-difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
-a frequent or urgent need to urinate.
If you’ve been experiencing any of these symptoms every day or every other day for two or three weeks, and—this is important—these symptoms are new for you, visit your gynecologist without delay.
(Interesting footnote: if you write about these symptoms, especially after devoting the day to reading articles about them, you will develop them all. Hopefully you will not also give yourself cancer.)
The symptoms are vague, many of them reminiscent of Irritable Bowel Syndrome or bladder infection, to name a few far more benign causes. Because of this, many ovarian-cancer patients are initially misdiagnosed, sometimes fatally.
The vagueness of the symptom list might account for the seeming reluctance of the American Cancer Society to issue this consensus. Dr. Barbara Goff, director of gynecologic oncology at the University of Washington in Seattle, has been sounding the alarm for years regarding these symptoms. One doctor, quoted in the Baltimore Sun,, stated unequivocally that these symptoms are nothing new to gynecologic oncologists. So why nothing official until now? My rudimentary attempts at research haven’t elicited much in the way of satisfactory answers; I’m guessing that a declaring a “consensus” takes a certain amount of definitive research above and beyond what had been done in the past, but that, as I said, is conjecture. Maybe some of you medical professionals out there want to enlighten us? Anyone?
But back to you. So you have some of these symptoms, you’ve had them for a couple of weeks, and now you’re officially in panic mode. What do you do next? Take a deep breath and try to relax. The vast majority of women who have these symptoms are just fine, say the experts. Next, go to your gynecologist and ask for—nay, demand–a recto-pelvic examination (ovarian masses are more effectively felt through the rectum). If there’s any possibility that something is awry, the next step is a transvaginal ultrasound and a blood test for CA125, a tumor marker that will be elevated in the presence of cancer.
If there’s still cause for concern, run, don’t walk to a gynecologic oncologist. The cancer can only be definitively diagnosed upon direct examination of the ovary. In a separate study, Dr. Goff’s team also found that many ovarian cancer patients are under-treated, so be aggressive about demanding the best care possible. This means finding a cancer center that performs a high volume of ovarian cancer surgeries. “”Those doctors who did 2 to 10 ovarian cancer surgeries were significantly better than those who did only one,” according to Goff.
Bottom line: ovarian cancer is rare but notoriously easy to misdiagnose. So if you think something’s really wrong and your doctor won’t listen, find someone who will.