September has been named “Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month”, so that more women can learn more about this type of cancer. Ovarian cancer has been called the cancer that whispers because it often has no clear-cut symptoms until the cancer has progressed to a more advanced stage. Women with advanced ovarian cancer often experience a feeling of abdominal pain, fullness or pelvic pressure, bloating, or increasing abdominal size. Some other less noticeable signs might include a change in bowel habits, such as gas, indigestion or swelling, sometimes nausea, increased urination or unexplained weight gain or loss.
If these symptoms persist for several weeks, you should consult your physician. Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are so vague, most women do not consult a physician until the disease is advanced.
Facts about ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer is ranked as the fifth most common type of cancer among women in the United States. This year over 24,000 new cases will be detected.
Ovarian cancer is the 13th most common cancer among women in Kentucky.
Ovarian cancer is the fourth leading cause of death nationally and in Kentucky. Each year it claims the lives of more than 14,000 women in the U.S.
Ovarian cancer incidence varies by region in Kentucky, with portions eastern Kentucky having the highest number of cases.
The single greatest ovarian cancer risk factor is a family history of the disease. Risks for ovarian cancer include being a Caucasian and having a mother, sister or daughter with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer strikes most often among two groups: women 25 and older with a family history (see above) of the disease and women over 50, most of whom are post-menopausal.
Ovarian cancer is very treatable when detected early, however, only 25 percent of cases in the United States are diagnosed in the early stages.
Ovarian cancer screening available”
The University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center has developed a screening procedure to diagnose ovarian cancer at an early stage. The free screening is a fast (10-15 minute), painless ultrasound test performed by female lab technicians using a vaginal probe.
The probe takes an accurate picture of each ovary and even small ovarian tumors can be detected. They will most likely be able to tell you at your screening if you have a problem or not. The results of your screening are sent to your physician of choice. If an ovarian tumor is detected by the screening, a repeat ultrasound is performed in six weeks. It the tumor persists or increases in size at the time of the second screening, a further examination is performed to determine if surgical removal is indicated. A blood test called serum Ca-125 is also performed. If the serum Ca-125 is elevated, the risk that the tumor could be cancer is increased. Laparoscopy with tumor excision is recommended performed if the risk of cancer is significant.
How is ovarian cancer treated
Most ovarian cancers are best treated by a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. The surgery usually involves removal of the uterus, as well as both ovaries and fallopian tubes. In addition, every effort is made to remove as much tumor as possible. After surgery, most patients are treated with chemotherapy. The kind of chemotherapy used depends on the type and extent of cancer present.
Again, there is no charge for the screenings. Follow-up testing not only is beneficial to the individual, but also aids in research in the area of ovarian cancers. Participants in the University of Kentucky program may return each year for another screening at no cost, as long as the study continues. Letcher County currently has 386 women being screened in the program at U.K.
To sign up for the free ovarian cancer screening program at the University of Kentucky’s Markey Cancer Center, call the Letcher County Extension Office at 633-2362. Free transportation is provided from the Extension Office to Lexington and trips are scheduled each month.