September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

Ovarian cancer is still the deadliest of the gynecological cancers and is often thought of as a silent killer even in the medical community. However, women who are aware of this cancer’s symptoms and discover the disease early can fight and defeat this covert enemy.

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 25,400 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003, and 14,300 are expected to die from the disease. The five-year survival rate for patients whose disease is detected in late stages is only 25 percent, yet if diagnosed before the cancer has spread outside the ovaries, a woman’s chance for five-year survival rises to 90 percent. Therefore, early recognition of symptoms and early diagnosis can significantly increase the patient’s survival rate.

“It is imperative for women to be aware of the risk factors for ovarian cancer,” said Afshin Bahador, M.D., director of Gynecological Oncology at City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles. “Women over the age of 50, those with a personal or family history of ovarian, breast, colon or uterine cancer and women who have not had children have an increased risk of the disease.”

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian cancer does not have a reliable screening tool, so paying attention to changes in one’s own body can lead to the early diagnosis that is crucial for successful treatment.

Symptoms include the following:

n abdominal pressure, bloating or discomfort

n constipation, diarrhea or frequent urination

n nausea, indigestion or gas

n abnormal vaginal bleeding

n unusual fatigue or backaches

n unexplained weight loss or gain

n shortness of breath.

If these symptoms are unusual and persist for more than two weeks, women are advised to see a doctor. To aid diagnosis, Dr. Bahador suggests combining a pelvic/rectal exam with a CA 125 blood test and a transvaginal sonogram. Also, treatment by a gynecologic oncologist, an obstetrician/gynecologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of women with cancer of the reproductive organs, has been shown to increase survival significantly.

For more information about ovarian cancer, contact the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance at 202-331-1332 or visit

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