Quad Cities, IL/IA

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How to BEAT the BIG O — Ovarian Cancer


By Jodie Shagrin Kavensky, NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Because there is no reliable screening test, all women — and the men who love them — must be aware of the symptoms, risk factors, and diagnostic techniques for the best chance to survive a disease that is insidious and lethal. Hopefully this information will also empower you to become a vigilant self-advocate for your health.

One in 72 women reading this article will develop ovarian cancer, with an estimated 22,000 new diagnoses each year. As the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths among American women, about 14,500 will die from it in 2015 — more than all other gynecologic cancers combined. The survival rate past five years is currently less than 30 percent.

These statistics are scary, but the good news is that women can survive ovarian cancer if it is diagnosed in its earliest stages. Unfortunately, many women think a pap test detects ovarian cancer (it doesn’t), and that women without ovaries cannot develop the disease (they can). At the NormaLeah Ovarian Cancer Foundation, we work hard to educate women about these facts in an effort to decrease the mortality rate. If detected early, nearly 92 percent of women will survive past that five-year mark.

Founded in 2008 as a non-profit organization, we honor the memories of my mother (Norma) and aunt (Leah) who died from the disease. Our mission is to create public awareness, promote early detection, and support research for ovarian cancer, which is often (needlessly) called a silent killer. Two main programs are helping us achieve these goals…our BEAT the BIG O campaign aimed at women on the street, and a new RULE OUT! Ovarian Cancer Medical Education program that reaches out to front-line health care professionals so they can recognize and diagnose the disease when it is most treatable.

All year long, NormaLeah volunteers hand out thousands of cards that use the BEAT acronym to list the most common symptoms — Bloating, Eating less/feeling fuller, Abdominal and/or back pain, and Trouble with your bladder and bowels. The cards can be mounted on bathroom mirrors where they serve as daily reminders for women to recognize changes in their normal habits. In September, our foundation places “TEALtag” window clings in dozens of community businesses, drawing additional attention to the disease and its symptoms.

It is also important for women to know the risk factors for the disease  — especially a family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer — and utilize active surveillance techniques. Because there is no acceptable screening test, we urge any woman who is experiencing symptoms or is at high risk to request testing, including a CA125 blood test, transvaginal ultrasound, and rectal-pelvic exam. If ovarian cancer is suspected, a referral to a gynecologic oncologist is of paramount importance.

All of our materials are distributed free of charge from our world headquarters, located in downtown Rock Island; and we welcome the opportunity to empower Quad City women through speaking engagements and women’s events. Please visit our website at www.normaleah.org or contact us at 309-794-0009 to learn more about the disease, and how you can help us rise up against ovarian cancer.

Photo credit: fotostorm/iStock