The Sad Reality of Ovarian Cancer - Why It Is So Important To Know The Early Symptoms.

BlogHer Original Post

You may have heard about a new study indicating symptoms that when recognized can be used to detect ovarian cancer early enough to save lives. This is important because when detected early, over 90% of ovarian cancers can be cured. Unfortunately, right now only 19% of cases are being detected early. And because ovarian cancer is so hard to diagnose, there is only a 45% survival rate (still alive 5 years after diagnosis). That's why we need to recognize these symptoms and know what to do if we have any of them.

My intention for this post was to tell you the facts about ovarian cancer, and the symptoms to watch for, and I am still going to do that. But for me, there is also a personal side to this story, and I couldn't imagine covering this topic without acknowledging it.

One of my saddest cases working as a nurse was on the oncology unit. I had a young women as my patient (she was in her late twenties, only a few years older than I was at the time), and she had been diagnosed with end stage ovarian cancer. I had been working on the oncology unit for over a year, and many times patients came to my unit in the last few weeks or days of their lives, mostly so they could be given large doses of pain medication to keep them comfortable. Everyone knew these patients were coming in not to be cured, but to die. It was always hard and always sad, but this time the woman dying was so young.

Unlike many of my other patients, I would never get to know this woman. She would only live another few days, and during that time she would be mostly unconscious from all the medications. But even so, I will never forget her. What I remember most was the sadness that surrounded her, her family standing and sitting around the bed, just waiting for her suffering to finally be over. Among all of the darkness and grief, a little girl (maybe two or three years old) was happily playing and skipping in and out of her mother's room, blissfully unaware. Every time I saw the little girl I thought how painful it must have been for her mother to know she would be dying and leaving her beautiful baby girl. How sad she must have been knowing she would miss all the important moments of her daughter's life. And how sad it was going to be for that little girl, growing up without her mother, never getting to know her. How could something so unfair be happening to this family? It seemed unfathomable to me, but I was watching it happen with my own eyes, I couldn't deny it. That was almost twenty years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday.

I didn't know it then, but only a few years later I would come eerily close to being in a similar situation as that young women. And it was the thought of not being there for my children that was the hardest thing to deal with. The thought of not being able to see my babies grow up (my son was 3, my daughter just 4 months), of not being able to be their mother, not being there for their birthdays, their graduations, and their weddings, not being there to protect them from the world...Those were the thoughts that haunted me, even more than any fear I might have had of dying.

I would need to have surgery quickly and have the tumor removed, only then would I find out if the cancer had spread. Even though I was referred to the best oncologist in the area, I knew the outcome wasn't good if it had spread. I don't think anyone (unless you have personally been through it) can understand the horror of being put under anesthesia, knowing that when you wake up you might be told you are dying.

The last thing I remember just before I was put under, was my doctor telling me that because I was so young he would try to save my uterus and one ovary. I told him I was blessed to have two beautiful children, and that the only thing that mattered to me was being able to be a mom to my children. I pleaded with him not to take any chances, if there was even a remote chance it had spread, to please take everything and not leave anything behind. At this point, I was crying, and I grabbed the doctor's arm before he turned away to let the anesthesiologist finish putting me under...and I said; "Promise me, promise me you won't leave anything behind." I don't remember what he said...I just remember waking up in the recovery room. I remember calling out to everyone who walked by, "good or bad, good or bad, good or bad?" I said it over and over, but none of the nurses would tell me anything. Moments later my doctor was again standing over me, and he told me that he was able to get it all, and that I was going to be okay. I asked him if he was sure, and he said he was sure. I would be one of the lucky 19% of patients diagnosed early enough to survive, but even more importantly, I would get to be a mother to my children.

There will be 22,430 new cases of ovarian cancer in the United States this year, and 15,280 women will die. Maybe awareness of these few early warning signs will help raise the percent of women who can be diagnosed early, and be successfully treated.

Possible Early Signs of Ovarian Cancer...

For the first time, cancer experts are advising women of certain symptoms that might alert them to ovarian cancer, a medically infamous "silent killer" that is hard to spot early and is one of the deadliest cancers.

The American Cancer Society and other organizations released a consensus statement Wednesday listing the symptoms. Historically, doctors have believed there are no early signs of ovarian cancer, which is expected to kill about 15,000 American women this year.

There is no early screening test; a regular pelvic exam is considered the main way to detect the cancer early.

The experts say women should see their doctor if they suddenly experience any of these symptoms daily for at least three weeks:

• Bloating.

• Pelvic or abdominal pain.

• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.

• Frequent or urgent urination. -- read full article

You're probably thinking that these are symptoms we all have from time to time, and that is true. The thing to watch for is if any of these symptoms persist, if you have them every day for more than three weeks. If you are not sure, write it down on the calendar each time you have a symptom. This way your doctor can also see what symptoms you have been having, and how often in a day you've been experiencing them.

Many women with these symptoms are more likely to have irritable bowel syndrome than ovarian cancer, she said. Also, there are no highly accurate tests to clearly confirm ovarian cancer at such an early stage.

"That was the frustration with this," Saslow said. But experts decided to issue the statement anyway, because important recent studies by Goff have indicated the sudden appearance of these symptoms in healthy women may be an important indicator.

Women should initially be evaluated by a gynecologist, but they should go to a specialist in gynecologic cancers if more testing and treatment is contemplated, she added.

Doctors check for ovarian cancer with ultrasound, a blood test and an exam in which a doctor feels for a mass. Unfortunately, none are considered highly accurate. The blood test -- which checks for a protein that can indicate ovarian cancer -- is particularly problematic, some doctors said. -- read full article

Ovarian Cancer Surgeon Echoes Recent American Cancer Association Findings...

Cancer Institute in Atlanta echoes findings Ovarian in a report issued from the American Cancer Society, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists.

"I am pleased to see that ovarian cancer is receiving the critical attention it deserves regarding early warning symptoms that so many are unaware of," explained Benedict B. Benigno, M.D. "We have always maintained that women should, indeed, pay attention to their bodies and that there are warning signs of ovarian cancer, and certain groups of women are also pre-disposed to this deadly disease," he continued. -- read full article.

Also see:
Ovarian Cancer "Silent Killer" No more?

For more information about Ovarian Cancer...

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Medline Plus: Ovarian Cancer

National Cancer Institute: Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance

Mayo Clinic: Ovarian Cancer

Other posts from BlogHer contributing editors...

Honoring and Remembering Women With Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian Cancer

Real Cancer, Real Lives

One of our BlogHers that blogs about Ovarian Cancer...

Ovarian Cancer and Us

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
also at Women 4 Hope and


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