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Silent Killer - What Women Should Know About Ovarian Cancer

By Catherine Johnson



The American Cancer Society estimated that approximately 15,280 women died from ovarian cancer in the United States during 2007. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth among cancers in women, and accounts for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Part of the reason for ovarian cancer's high mortality rate is the difficulty in diagnosing a disease with few warning signs. Another aspect of ovarian cancer that makes the disease one of the most challenging to treat is the fact that tumors can grow quickly, and aggressively spread through the abdomen to other organs.

Like any cancer, the sooner ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better a woman's chances of survival. If the cancer can be treated before it has spread outside the ovary, the five year survival rate is 93%. However, only 19% of all ovarian cancers are found at this stage, so it is crucial that women of all ages are familiar with symptoms, which can initially be quite vague. These include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina
  • Pain in the lower abdomen
  • Pelvic and/or abdominal swelling, bloating, and/or a feeling of fullness
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Vague but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as gas, nausea, and indigestion
  • Unexplained changes in bowel habits
  • Ongoing unusual fatigue


Women who experience any of these symptoms, but particularly bloating , pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full very quickly, and having the urge to urinate frequently on a daily basis for more than two or three weeks, should contact her gynecologist immediately and schedule a pelvic exam. One of the diagnostic tests available is the transvaginal ultrasound, which helps determine whether there are abnormal growths present or other signs of cancer in the ovaries.

A woman can also inherit an increased risk of ovarian cancer. This is particularly true if a direct relative (mother, father, sister, or daughter) has, or has had ovarian, breast, colon, or prostate cancer. Women with a strong family history of ovarian cancer are more likely to develop the disease at a younger age (prior to 50).

While statistics indicate ovarian cancer mainly occurs in women 55 or older, one third of women who develop this disease are much younger. Regardless of age, one thing for all women to keep in mind is that a Pap Test does not detect ovarian cancer. Currently, there are no reliable, accurate screening tests in existence. However, women should still have annual vaginal exams, as the detection of abnormal swelling or tenderness can be an indication of more serious problems.

Two of the diagnostic tests available are generally used with women having a higher risk of ovarian cancer. The transvaginal sonography or ultrasound (discussed above) is an ultrasound performed with a small instrument placed in the vagina. The second test involves blood work to determine if the level of a tumor marker called CA-125 has increased in the blood. Again, this test is primarily used with women at high risk or who have had an abnormal pelvic exam.

The good news is that rates of this terrible disease are declining. But, to continue making strides in early detection, treatment options, and survival rates, all women need to familiarize themselves with the symptoms associated with ovarian cancer and consult their gynecologist and discuss concerns.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, there are numerous organizations committed to eradicating the disease. These organizations also provide education on treatment and prevention, resources such as support groups, and information on the latest research. Here are some of the most well known:

Gynecologic Cancer Foundation - Established in 1991 by the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists (SGO), the mission of GCF is to promote public awareness about the prevention, early detection, and treatment of gynecologic cancers.


National Ovarian Cancer Coalition - Their mission is to raise awareness and promote education about ovarian cancer. The site offers state chapters, breaking news, support and services, clinical trails, and resources.


National Cancer Institute - This organization is under the umbrella of the U.S. National Institute of Health. The site provides extensive information on treatment, prevention and causes, clinical trials, and research.


American Cancer Society - The ACS is a community-based, voluntary organization with chapters throughout the United States. The mission of the ACS is to prevent cancer and save lives.


Catherine Johnson is the author of Shades of Darkness, Shades of Grace. To find out more about the novel and download an excerpt, visit: http://www.CatherineJohnsonNovels.com


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