Chesterton Tribune

Early detection essential for survival of ovarian cancer

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By MARGARET L. WILLIS

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and John Hayduk, whose wife Patti died in November of 2003, at the age of 49, urges women to become aware and seek diagnosis and treatment for early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among women overall after lung, breast, colorectal and pancreatic. Every year, nearly 23,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and over 14,000 women die of the disease. This high fatality rate is primarily due to late detection.

The five-year survival rate for early-stage (I-II) ovarian cancer is 80%, compared with a 25% five-year survival rate for advanced stage (III-IV) ovarian cancer, so early detection is essential.

Particular symptom patterns, while sometimes found to be related to other medical conditions, may provide clues for the presence of ovarian cancer.

Women should notice if one or more of these symptoms persist beyond three weeks: vaginal bleeding or discharge; urinary urgency, burning or spasms; abdominal or pelvic pain or pressure; abdominal swelling or bloating; gas, indigestion, nausea or changes in bowel habits.

A recent study, posted June 9, 2004 at ovca.net -- a site sponsored by the Marsha Rivkin Center for Cancer Research, suggests a link between these symptoms and ovarian cancer.

The survey found that symptoms most common in women who turned out to have ovarian cancer were bloating, increased abdominal size, fatigue, urinary urgency, abdominal pain and pelvic pain. Though these symptoms affect most or all women at one time or another, and are by no means an automatic diagnosis, women who turned out to have ovarian cancer had a significantly greater number of symptoms which occurred with greater frequency.

“Women should listen to their bodies and discuss concerns with their health-care providers,” said Dr. Barbara Goff, University of Washington professor of obstetrics and gynecology and lead author of a paper about the findings published in the journal of the American Medical Association.

The study found that 80 to 90 percent of women with early-stage ovarian cancer reported symptoms for several months prior to diagnosis.

Hayduk offers the additional advice that women take very seriously any of these symptoms which persist more than three weeks, seek medical assistance and “never allow yourself to be put off by any health professional who suggests that these serious symptoms may ‘merely’ indicate the presence of an ulcer, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease), menopause or other condition.

“Often women have an early sense that something is wrong,” Hayduk said, but are reassured by their doctor’s diagnosis of some other problem without ever checking for ovarian cancer. Patti was terrified by her early symptoms, which seemed to be a H. pylori ulcer. She also experienced intense shoulder pain, which, it was later revealed, may have been referred pain from the ovarian tumor. “They just couldn’t pin it down,” Hayduk said. By the time Patti’s ovarian cancer was diagnosed she had just eight months to live.

Women who are not satisfied with a diagnosis and feel their symptoms represent something else should persist in their inquiries, seek a second opinion and demand a trans-vaginal ultrasound and a CA-125 blood test at a large urban hospital such as Rush Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital or Bernard Mitchell Hospital in Chicago, urges Hayduk.

“You need to push for treatment and you need to push hard,” Hayduk added.

“If just one woman gets an early ultrasound and is caught at Stage II, Hallelujah,” Hayduk said. Difficult as it is to talk about, Hayduk feels Patti would want him to make the effort to draw extra attention to the issue so other women do not have to suffer as she did. The ovarian tumor which finally killed her made the last months and days of her life “just horrible,” Hayduk said.

The more publicity the better, Hayduk added. “I firmly believe that the publicity on breast cancer has helped reduce fatalities.”

Risk factors for ovarian cancer include a family history of ovarian or breast cancer, never bearing children, infertility, starting periods at a young age, menopause at an older-than-average age, Caucasian race, Jewish descent, diet high in fat.

Factors that lower the risk of ovarian cancer include the use of birth control pills, having several children, breast feeding, tubal ligation and ovary removal.

It is up to women to be aware of their bodies and possible changes in their reproductive area, then insist upon ovarian cancer diagnostic procedures as a first, rather than last, course of action. . .before it is too late.

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For information, Hayduk recommends the ovarian cancer informational website, http://ovca.net/

The ribbon representing ovarian cancer awareness is the color teal.

 

Posted 9/17/2004