Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, so listen to your body
Posted: 09/03/2012 12:03:23 AM MDT
"It whispers, so listen." This slogan will always remind me of ovarian cancer. When I was in my second semester of nursing school, one of our first presentation style assignments was to pick a chapter in our nursing book and create a learning experience for our peers. Naturally my deep appreciation for cancer as a subject led me straight to its chapter. I was not only given an opportunity to research and uncover more about cancer, but I had the chance to choose one specific type of cancer and educate my peers. I opted for not only one of the most serious forms of cancer, but a cancer that always seems to have the least amount of attention. During my investigation I discovered one of the most profound slogans I have ever read and will forever remain aware of "It whispers, so listen."
So what exactly does this slogan mean? What it means is ovarian cancer usually does not produce any early symptoms, and when it does, they are so similar to typical symptoms of constipation, stomach upset, menstrual cramping and back pain, they essentially "whisper" and are commonly ignored. The key to "listening" to symptoms is really being familiar with your body. Usually if the unusual changes last longer than two weeks, it is important to seek medical attention. The major changes to pay attention to are: vaginal bleeding or discharge that is not normal for you, pelvic or low abdominal pain, back pain that persists, bloating in the lower region of your abdomen, feeling full quickly after eating, or a change in your bathroom habits — for instance prolonged constipation or diarrhea.
There is no screening for ovarian cancer, and please keep in mind that a Pap smear test will not detect this particular type of cancer; it is used as a screening tool for cervical cancer. The only prevention is listening to your body and noticing changes.
There are a few risk factors linked to ovarian cancer, which include: age, being of Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background, never giving birth, having a history of endometriosis, and genetic mutations. Two particular mutations called BRCA1 or BRCA2, are not only connected to breast cancer, but ovarian as well. They stand for BR (br-east) and CA (ca-ncer) and there are two susceptibility genes, thus the 1 and 2. If this gene is inherited, a woman's risk is significantly increased. The National Cancer Institute indicates that 1.4 percent (14 out of 1,000) will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, compared with 15 to 40 percent (150-400 out of 1,000) of women who have a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. So, if there is a family history, especially close family, such as mother, sister, aunt or grandmother on either your father or mother's side of the family, it is important that your doctor is aware. Testing can be expensive and controversial, so it is important to talk to your health care provider if you feel you should have this done.
Teal is the awareness color for ovarian cancer and also stands on its own as a motto for bringing awareness. TEAL=Take Early Action & Live. As a reminder, September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. If you would like to learn more about ovarian cancer, visit the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition website, www.ovarian.org.
Tara M. Ibarbo is a BSN/RN/ CTR employed at Memorial Medical Center Cancer Center and a current MPH graduate student at New Mexico State University.