Okay, it’s time to take a break from talking about coffee to talk about something a little more serious. You may know that next month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but many may not know that this month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. If you didn’t know, don’t feel ignorant. The fact that you don’t see NFL players wearing teal during September isn’t necessarily unwarranted: about 7% of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the time they are 70, whereas only 1% of women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. In other terms, that’s about 1 in 8 women that will get breast cancer in her lifetime, whereas 1 in 75 women will get ovarian cancer.
However, this doesn’t mean that ovarian cancer should be treated lightly by any means. It has often been dubbed the “disease that whispers,” because not only is its symptoms often masked, but it is harder to screen and isn’t often caught in early stages (only 20% of cases are diagnosed before they advance). According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is the deadliest cancer amongst gynecological cancers, and has a 5-year-relative survival rate of less than 50%..
We’re not trying to be negative Nancies or anything here by spewing all of these facts at you, but it’s often not something that many women know until they have to. We’re also not saying that cancers are created differently: no matter where it is, cancer is cancer. We are just wanting to shed light on a disease that may be affecting a loved one, or it could be affecting you.
Quick facts about ovarian cancer you may not know
1. Pap smears do not detect ovarian cancer. This is probably one of the biggest misconceptions women may have regarding ovarian cancer. Pap smears are excellent in detecting cervical cancer, but are not designed to identify ovarian cancer. If you are experiencing symptoms (see below) or have a family history of ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about undergoing a pelvic exam or an ultrasound.
2. Ovarian cancer primarily happens to women over sixty, but cases are known to women as young as fourteen. Take How I Met Your Mother Actress Colbie Smulders for example, who was diagnosed with a rare form and non-aggressive form of ovarian cancer at twenty-five, or fourteen-year-old Kylee Yarnell.
3. There isn’t an early-detection test for ovarian cancer—yet. An early-detection test is exactly what it sounds like: a test that patients can take to see if they have formed or are harboring a disease, whether they are experiencing symptoms or not. Some examples of early-detection tests include mammograms and certain sexually-transmitted disease tests. As we are working towards an ovarian cancer early-detection test, the closest thing to an early detection test in ovarian cancer at the moment is a transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) or a CA-125 blood test.
As stated earlier, ovarian cancer is known as the “disease that whispers.” It is not uncommon for women go to the doctor for a pesky gallbladder or appendicitis attack and find out that all along it was ovarian cancer. If you experience consistent bloating or swelling of the abdomen, pelvic pain, fatigue, urinary urgency or frequency, back pain, vaginal bleeding, or trouble eating, you may be experiencing symptoms of ovarian cancer. Of course, if you are experiencing these, don’t automatically assume that it’s ovarian cancer. We as women experience these symptoms often, and things such as one-time pelvic pain may indicate one-time occurrences, such as an ovarian cyst rupturing. Whenever they all become consistent, such as experiencing pelvic pain 12 times a month, this may be your body telling you something.
Preventative measures you can take:
1. Get checked regularly. Especially if you have a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer, discuss with your doctor what routine options should be in place. Remember: pap smears do not test for ovarian cancer, just cervical cancer.
2. Take oral contraceptive. By taking oral contraceptive for 5 or more years, your chance of contracting ovarian cancer risk can be reduced by 50%.
2. Eat well. Dang it, we knew that was coming, but just as abs are made in the kitchen, so are cancer-fighting internal properties. Just like your momma told you, load up on colorful veggies and fruits.
3. Exercise often. Well, go ahead and put a checkmark next to that one, barre babe.
How to contribute to the fight:
1. Eat at Newk’s. The restaurant’s Newk’s Care initiative donates a percentage of profit made from certain menu items to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance.
2. Donate to the OCRFA. You can donate on the OCRFA website here, as well as find other ways to contribute.
3. Get your hair done. We’re not saying that it doesn’t already look fabulous, but when you go to one of these participating salons, a percentage of proceeds will benefit ovarian cancer via the T.J. Martell Foundation.