‘Cancer that whispers’ speaks out

Ovarian cancer is the "cancer that whispers" not only because its symptoms are subtle and easily overlooked, but also because of the lack of awareness. When my late aunt was diagnosed six years ago, I had never heard of ovarian cancer. With September being National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, it is the perfect time to spread the word to the Oswego campus community.

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of the gynecological cancers, and is also well known as "the silent killer." This year, over 23,000 women will be diagnosed and over 16,200 will not survive. Most women, when diagnosed, have about a 25 percent chance of survival of five years; yet early detection can improve theses rates up to 90 percent. All women are at risk, and 1 in 55 will be diagnosed at any age. It is extremely important to know that Pap Tests do not detect ovarian cancer and that the symptoms are subtle, persistent and increase with time.

The primary symptom to look for is abdominal bloating—especially if it intensifies over time. Other symptoms include: pain or a feeling of fullness (even after a light meal); frequent and/or urgent urination; abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; fatigue; unexplained weight loss or gain; unexplained change in bowel habits; pain or bleeding during intercourse; ongoing pain/cramps in belly, pelvis, or lower back; shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; slight fever; and although rare, a small knot in the umbilical area which may be painful to touch or painful when coughing. If any of these symptoms last more than two to three weeks, and/or worsen, it is strongly advised to take action and see a doctor.

While it is important to know the symptoms, it is equally important to know the risk factors and possible risk reductions of ovarian cancer. The most common risks are family or personal history of ovarian, breast, or colon cancer—between ten percent and twenty percent of ovarian cancer diagnoses are due to family history or genetic mutations. Some other risk factors include genetic mutations in BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 (sometimes linked to Ashkenazi Jewish descent); infertility; high-fat diet; polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS); and genital exposure to talc (found in talcum powder).

It is important to realize that ovarian cancer cannot be prevented, but the following are ways to possibly reduce your risk. The use of oral contraceptives (the pill) for more than five years is the most common way to reduce your risk. Other forms of risk reduction include: multiple pregnancies and breast feeding, hysterectomy, and oopherectomy (removal of the ovaries).

For more information, please visit the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance at www.ovariancancer.org, or my site at www.myspace.com/awareness_mission, or feel free to contact me. If you’re looking to get involved on campus, Colleges Against Cancer will start their meetings in the coming week – you can find them on Facebook, or e-mail at: cac@oswego.edu