Silent no more

Kathleen Gavin, executive director of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA)

Kathleen Gavin, executive director of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA)

In mid-June, the American Cancer Society, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists released a landmark statement debunking the myth that ovarian cancer is a “silent killer”-in fact, the organizations said, recent studies show that there are four recognizable symptoms of ovarian cancer. If a woman experiences one or more of the following nearly daily for more than three weeks, she should see her gynecologist.

• Abdominal or pelvic pain
• Bloating or swelling of the abdomen
• Feeling full quickly when eating, or the inability to eat much
• Having to urinate urgently and/or frequently

According to the study, how often and how many of these symptoms a woman experiences is important information that can lead to an early diagnosis. Several studies show that even early stage ovarian cancer can produce these symptoms. Kathleen Gavin, executive director of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MOCA), recommends that women who experience these symptoms ask their gynecologist for a vaginal/rectal exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, and a CA125 blood test.

Though this may have been a momentous public statement, it was old news to advocates like Gavin. “MOCA and other women’s health advocates have been talking about these symptoms and sending out symptoms cards for years,” commented Gavin, who added that now that research has confirmed women’s experiences, “the big organizations have caught up.” Gavin stresses the importance of early detection, and the statistics bear her out. Nearly 70 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are in the advanced stages of the disease, and only a quarter of those will live five years. On the other hand, the 29 percent of women diagnosed in the early stages of the disease (before the cancer has spread beyond the ovaries) have a 95 percent chance of living more than four years. According to Gavin and other experts, one of the major reasons for the high mortality rate is that there is no specific test to diagnose ovarian cancer.

In the past six years, MOCA has raised $1.7 million for ovarian cancer research, making it one of the country’s largest nongovernment funders of ovarian cancer research. The organization also provides education about ovarian cancer and support services for women living with the disease.

Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance