September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. It’s ironic that this would be the month that one of my good friends, at age 55, would be having her surgery for ovarian cancer. In retrospect, she had all the symptoms:
- Pelvic and abdominal pain
- Getting full quickly with meals, and
- Going more often to the bathroom to urinate
But she never complained and/or talked about it. She just put up with it and chalked all this up to just “getting older.” She even had a positive family history; her father had bowel cancer, which along with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, is associated with getting ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is not one of the big three for women in menopause (lung, breast and colon cancer, which make up over 50 percent of cancers in women). There are about 22,000 new cases each year and 13,850 deaths. But ovarian cancer is one of the most lethal. Why? Because 70 percent of the time it is silent until it has spread.
Women and their doctors need to be more aware of this silent killer and find it early. I have always suggested to women over the age of 50 to have a pelvic ultrasound every two to three years to increase the chances of finding it. After all, the ovaries are only the size of the tip of my thumb in young women and after menopause, they become even smaller – about the size of the tip of my little finger. You can imagine how difficult that can be to feel during an exam, especially if a woman is heavy. But a new study suggests that ultrasound won’t be as helpful in saving lives as I had hoped.
What helps? Being on the birth control pill helps reduce the risk. Talk with family members. If you have a strong family history of breast, ovarian or bowel cancer, talk with your doctor and get tested to see if you have genes that put you at increased risk for ovarian cancer. And if you do, after you have had your children, see about having your ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower your risk of getting this silent killer.
Image credit: MesserWoland / Wiki Commons