Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month: Be Informed Your Life May Depend On It

With September designated Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, SHARE, Self-help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer, is urging women, healthcare providers and the general public to be informed about ovarian cancer symptoms and the steps a woman should take if she has them.

As there is no reliable screening tool for ovarian cancer, education is our best hope for an early diagnosis.

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers because its symptoms are easily confused with other health care problems. Although ovarian cancer is most common in women over the age of 55, younger women do get ovarian cancer and should be aware of its symptoms. According to the New York State Department of Health, approximately 1,700 women living in New York State are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually and more than 1,000 die from the disease, making it the fifth most common cause of cancer deaths among women. Although ovarian cancer has been called a "silent killer," approximately 95% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer do report symptoms, even in early stage disease.

The most common symptoms of ovarian cancer include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary urgency or frequency. Additional symptoms may include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, constipation, pain with intercourse and menstrual irregularities. If a woman has these symptoms almost daily for more than two weeks, she should see a gynecologist. Experts recommend a CA-125 blood test, a trans-vaginal ultrasound and a rectal/pelvic exam. Although these tests can be useful in diagnosing ovarian cancer in women who present with symptoms, they are not considered precise enough to be used as screening tools for the general public.

For more information, call SHARE’s New York State Ovarian Cancer Hotline at 1-866-53-SHARE (1-866-537-4273). The Hotline provides services in English and Spanish and is staffed by trained ovarian cancer survivors who provide callers with information, resources and support. The Hotline has volunteer translators who can assist callers in more than 10 different languages.

SHARE: Self-help for Women with Breast or Ovarian Cancer is a not-for-profit organization that has been providing peer-led support services free of charge for 33 years to women with breast or ovarian cancer, as well as to their families and friends.

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About the Author: Theresa Conti