April 28, 2008

And now, something completely different

This Saturday, May 3, I'll be taking part in the 11th Annual Break the Silence: Walk for Ovarian Cancer, held by the Illinois chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. The NOCC is the nation's leading ovarian cancer public information and education organization; the group promotes research, raises awareness about ovarian cancer, and provides support for women and families dealing with the disease. If you'd like to sponsor me, please visit my donation page. There's no minimum donation, and every little bit helps. I'm hoping to raise $500 overall.

Thanks for your consideration, and please spread the word about ovarian cancer's nonspecific and deceptive symptoms (more details after the cut). Many women and many physicians don't think to suspect ovarian cancer, so it's incumbent on all of us to be familiar with the symptoms and be able to advocate for ourselves and the women we care for.

One of the biggest reasons that ovarian cancer is so deadly is that the symptoms are so nonspecific. From that Mayo Clinic link comes this information:

Recent studies have shown that women with ovarian cancer are more likely than are other women to consistently experience the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Urinary urgency
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain

Additional signs and symptoms that women with ovarian cancer may experience include:

  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation
  • Changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss or gain
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • Pain during intercourse (dyspareunia)
  • A persistent lack of energy
  • Low back pain

Now, how many of those problems have you experienced off and on? A lot, right? Gas, indigestion, constipation and diarrhea are annoyances that strike all of us from time to time. (Pardon the violation of the crossword "Sunday morning breakfast test.") Apparently what marks these as suggestive of ovarian cancer is persistence and worsening—rather than coming and going or acting up depending on what you've eaten, if those vague abdominal symptoms just don't go away and you're female, it's not a bad idea to ask your physician to give you a workup to rule out ovarian cancer. This might include a transvaginal ultrasound, a rectovaginal exam, and/or a blood test to check your CA-125 level. (Note: CA-125 tests can be false-positive and freak you out, or miss many early-stage ovarian cancer cases, so it's not the be-all and end-all of ovarian cancer detection.)

One of the missions of the NOCC is to get this sort of information out there, because many women with ovarian cancer go undiagnosed for months after they become symptomatic. Their doctors may think they're complaining too much, or that they have something benign like irritable bowel syndrome. By the time the symptoms are recognized for what they are and the cancer is diagnosed, too often the disease has spread.

Again, thanks for listening, thanks for anything you are able to donate, and thanks for spreading the word about ovarian cancer's symptoms to women who need this information.