Experts announce ovarian cancer symptoms
Thursday, June 21, 2007
By the time Janis Prange was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she was already in Stage IIIC. Cancer had spread to her abdomen and lymph nodes. Only Stage IV is worse. Within days of her diagnosis, Prange was on an operating table, where a team of surgeons removed every organ she could live without, plus half of her colon. At 59, Prange had just a 31.5 percent chance of living five years.
That was eight years ago. Today, the cancer is gone.
“I hadn’t been feeling well,” Prange remembers of the time immediately before her diagnosis. “I was gaining weight. I was bloating. I was tired. But every one of my symptoms was easily explained away as something else. I just kept going back to my doctor. I knew something was wrong.”
Until now, no one has correlated symptoms like Prange’s to ovarian cancer because, experts say, none by itself is an indicator of much. But after extensive research, that’s about to change.
On June 25, two dozen advocacy groups and professional medical societies will formally announce that symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly, and a frequent and urgent need to urinate can be symptoms of ovarian cancer.
It doesn’t seem like much. But for the one in 55 women who will be diagnosed with some form of the disease in their lifetime, it’s monumental.
There is no single proven test to predict or diagnose ovarian cancer, no vaccine and no cure. According to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), Pap smears do not screen for ovarian cancer, and hysterectomies don’t eliminate the risk of developing the disease. The use of estrogen or birth control pills do not increase the risks.
Joy Smith is the nurse educator at Community Hospital’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “By the time most women discover they have [ovarian cancer], they are in advanced stages, III or IV,” she says. In fact, the NOCC says 70 percent of all initial diagnoses are made in Stage III or IV.
Smith says the discovery of symptoms means increased chances of early detection. With early intervention, she says, the likelihood that a woman will beat it increases exponentially. The five-year survival rate for women diagnosed in Stage I is more than 90 percent.
Today, Prange volunteers at CHOMP’s cancer center, helping other women cope with ovarian cancer and providing living proof that there’s hope. “I’m blessed,” she says. “It doesn’t usually happen this way. But I guess because I’m still here means that it can. And if it can for me, it can for other women, too.”