PSA: Ovarian Cancer Month

Greetings, fellow Earthlings …

I don’t know where that came from – just out of my head, I guess! Anyhoo … the lesson for today is intended for all you gals out there, and for the guys who know gals … which would be everybody.

September is Ovarian Cancer Month!

Teal is to ovarian cancer as pink is to breast cancer.

Around the world this month people have been doing Walks and otherwise raising money and awareness regarding Ovarian Cancer. In Canada, the UK, Australia, the US and elsewhere there are events going on and educational outreach happening.

There are no useful screening tests for OC, which makes it very tricky to catch because the symptoms are not uncommon, especially for women of a certain age. Symptoms can include:
• Bloating
• Pelvic or abdominal pain
• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
• Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
• Back pain
• Fatigue/sleep changes
• Nausea, indigestion, flatulence
• Changes in bowel function (constipation, diarrhea)
• Menstrual irregularities
• Weight gain or loss

My (subtle) symptoms came on just as I was getting ready to go to the UK for a long-overdue visit, but got worse while I was away. When I got back to Vancouver I made an appointment with my family doctor but (luckily) before I could get there my ovary twisted itself and caused me to go to Emergency. That fast-tracked me and gained me about a month over waiting to see my GP. No-one knows if this contributed to me being only Stage 1 vs Stage 3 or 4 – the doctors simply do not have these answers.

So, the moral of the story is … you should be aware of your body and if you notice changes insist that your family doctor send you for the appropriate testing. This should include:
• Ultrasound
• Ca 125 testing (the OC marker)

For me the Ca 125 marker was not a great indicator as I was “just” at the top end of normal, while some women have readings 20 times higher than I did.

There are no known causes, but higher risk groups include those who:
• Have not had children
• Were not on the Pill for any appreciable time
• Have not had a hysterectomy
• Are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage

There is a gene component to this. I have been put into the Hereditary Cancer Program of the BCCA, which will help the researchers learn more about this type of cancer. On my mother’s side pretty much everyone has been affected by cancer of some type, so the goal is to establish if I have a specific gene mutation related to OC and breast cancer (they are connected). I have not yet had the test done so don’t know if this was largely pre-destined or happened by chance.

Unless diagnosed at a very early stage, OC has a high mortality rate. The fact that 1 in 71 women will develop OC, and fewer than 20% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage (as I was), means that this is something people should be aware of.

OC has recently been shown to originate in the fallopian tubes. These are easy to remove as a precautionary measure.

My next posting will be more personal but I thought I would take this opportunity to put the word out, so that a little more becomes known about OC.


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