September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in Kentucky. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, but Kentucky is ahead of many states by offering a free yearly ovarian screening program. There are now approximately 180 Letcher County women, or women with ties to the county, participating in the screening program, which began in 1987 at the University of Kentucky.
What is ovarian cancer? Cancer is a disease where cells grow out of control. The cancer is named for the location where it starts, even if later it spreads to other body parts. If the cancer starts in the ovaries it is called ovarian cancer. The ovaries are in the pelvis of a woman where they make female hormones and produces eggs.
Who gets ovarian cancer? Any woman can get ovarian cancer — although some women may be at higher risk:
• women who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer
• women with a personal history of cancer
• women over the age of 55
• women who were never pregnant
• women who are having menopausal hormone replacement therapy.
Since early ovarian cancer usually produces no specific symptoms, most women have advanced disease by the time they are diagnosed. UK has the largest institutional ovarian cancer screening trial in the United States.
Just because you may have one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will have ovarian cancer. It does mean that you should talk to your doctor or healthcare professional about your risk for ovarian cancer.
Avoiding cancer risk factors such as smoking, being overweight, and lack of exercise may help prevent certain cancers. Increasing protective factors such as quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and exercising may also help prevent some cancers. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about how you might lower your risk of cancer.
You are the best judge when it comes to your body. It is important to notice any changes that may be occurring.
Some signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer may be:
• pelvic or abdominal pain
• difficulty eating or feeling full very quickly
• a change in your bathroom habits, like having to urinate often and quickly
Other symptoms may include:
• nausea, indigestion or gas
• diarrhea or constipation
• extreme fatigue
• shortness of breathe
If any of these symptoms last for more than two or three weeks, then you should talk to your healthcare provider. Again, you know your body best!
Being involved personally as a screening participant since 1990, I can say it is a successful program. I was diagnosed with uterine cancer as part of my screening on August 6, 2010. Surgery was scheduled immediately. Dr. John van Nagell Jr., director of the program, which is part of UK’s College of Medicine, was my surgeon. He is truly a wonderful physician and words cannot express my gratitude to him and to Dr. Ed Pavlik, director of Research in the Division of Gynecologic/ Oncology; Glenda Enfusse Broome ( from Letcher County), who is in charge of scheduling appointments of the screening program’s six outreach centers; and all the great staff members who cared for me so well at UK Hospital and UK Healthcare’s Markey Cancer Center’s Whitney-Hendrickson Building in Lexington. My special thoughts will always be with them.
I have been transporting groups of Letcher county women to Lexington for screening since 1990. Transportation is provided through the Letcher County Extension Office and the trips are free to any woman over 50 who have not had a complete hysterectomy and meets the guidelines listed previously.
For more information about the UK Ovarian Cancer Screening Research Program, call Ann Bradley at the Letcher County Extension Office in Whitesburg, at 633-2362, or call 1-800- 766-8279 at the University of Kentucky.