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September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month




September has been named Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month so that more women can learn 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 ovarian cancer often experience a feeling of abdominal pain, fullness or pelvic pressure, bloating, or increased abdominal size. Some other less noticeable signs might include 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.

Here are some facts about ovarian cancer:

• Ovarian cancer is ranked as the fifth most common type of cancer among women in the United States. This year more than 24,000 new cases will be detected.

• 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 of 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 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 of the disease and women over 50, most of whom are postmenopausal.

• Ovarian cancer is very treatable when detected early, however only 25 percent of cases in the U.S. are diagnosed in the early stages.

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. If the tumor persists or has increased 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 performed if the risk of cancer is significant.

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 UK program may return each year for another screening at no cost, as long as the study continues.

To sign up for the free ovarian cancer screening program at UK’s Markey Cancer Center, call the Letcher County Extension Office at 633-2362. Free transportation is provided from the Extension Center to Lexington and trips are scheduled each month.


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