September is ovarian cancer awareness month

Published on Thu, Aug 28, 2008 by Linda Adler

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September is ovarian cancer awareness month

By Linda Adler

September is national ovarian cancer awareness month. Pete Kremen, Whatcom County executive, has also issued a proclamation designating September as ovarian cancer awareness month in Whatcom County.

This is the second year the county has joined other counties, states and the United States in issuing an official proclamation.

We are grateful to the Whatcom County Council for their support in bringing ovarian cancer awareness to the public.

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I have a personal and significant interest in creating ovarian cancer awareness.

In June 2006, I was diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer. During treatment, I realized that I had been misdiagnosed for at least five years.

Had I been diagnosed sooner, I might not have been facing a possible death sentence.

Grateful to be alive, I promised myself that I would dedicate myself to promoting ovarian cancer awareness, so that other women might not have to face what I, and too many others, have experienced.

I make myself available to organizations, exercise studios, and women’s groups and speak to women about ovarian cancer and this year, I educated the nursing students at Whatcom Community College.

Additionally, this year, my co-captain, Jane VanVoorst and I organized “Team Bellingham” to participate in the Swedish Summerun, an annual event in Seattle that raises money for the Marsha Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer Research. More than 3,400 people registered for this event and more than $500,000 was raised; 100 percent of the proceeds going directly to fund research.

I am proud to report that “Team Bellingham” raised $2,500 in this, our first year, and we are hoping to do even more next year.

Ovarian cancer is considered a chronic illness and is the deadliest of the gynecologic cancers. Because there is no reliable routine screening tool, like the pap or mammogram, women and their health care providers must be aware of the symptoms that are often undiagnosed or misinterpreted because they resemble other health problems, such as urinary, menopausal, colon, depression and stress. A frequent misdiagnosis is irritable bowel syndrome.

Ovarian cancer was considered women’s “silent killer” because it was believed that there were no significant warning signs until it was in late stage.

Not so!

For the majority of women the disease causes symptoms at earlier stages.
Therefore, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists and the American Cancer Society have recognized an official cluster of symptoms and recommend that women see their doctors if they have these symptoms nearly every day for more than a few weeks:

• Bloating or increased waistline
• Pelvic or abdominal pain.
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.
• Feeling a frequent or urgent need to urinate.

Attention should also be given to other symptoms, including unusual fatigue, shortness of breath, low back or leg pain, persistent indigestion, gas, or nausea, unexplained weight gain or loss, or abnormal vaginal bleeding.

Risk factors include family or personal history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer, not bearing children, increasing age, and ethnicity, including Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
About 22,000 new cases of ovarian cancer are expected in the United States this year and 15,000 women will die of this deadly disease. In Washington state, approximately one woman will die every day.

Awareness of the symptoms is the key to early diagnosis, and early diagnosis is the key to survival. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent are in early stage when diagnosed, at which time the survival rate is severely reduced.

When ovarian cancer is detected early, over 90 percent of women survive.
With these recommendations and symptom recognition, it is hoped that women will be better informed and that medical professionals will be more likely to diagnose early enough to reduce the statistics and save lives.

Linda Adler is affiliated with the Ovarian and Breast Cancer Alliance of Washington State and Survivors Teaching Students.

For additional information or to arrange a speaking engagement, call 360/714-8905.