Health: COCO raising awareness about ovarian cancer

By Debbie Howes Fleming Published:

The members of the Capital Ovarian Cancer Organization (COCO) are raising awareness about ovarian cancer to save more lives.

Ovarian cancer is a type of female cancer that occurs in the ovaries. The ovaries are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs and female hormones. Unlike other cancers, the mortality rate of ovarian cancer has not decreased over the years. It remains the most deadly of gynecological cancers in women.

A common misconception held by some women is that the Pap test performed during an annual pelvic exam will detect ovarian cancer. Currently there is no effective screening test for ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, by the time full-blown symptoms occur the cancer has metastasized to other areas or organs in the body.

If the cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 93 percent. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that only 19 percent of ovarian cancers are found in the early stages.

Diagnosing ovarian cancer is made more difficult because the symptoms may be vague and seem unrelated to gynecological problems. In 2007, the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC), the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists and ACS reached a consensus on four major common symptoms that may indicate ovarian cancer.

These symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than in the general public. The symptoms include abdominal swelling or bloating (because of a mass or accumulation of fluid), pelvic pressure or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and/or urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency).

If a woman experiences these symptoms suddenly or has them almost daily for longer than a few weeks she should see her healthcare provider. Since the symptoms are now universally recognized, it may be possible to diagnose ovarian cancer before it has metastasized. Once metastasized, the survival rate drops to 45 percent or lower. ACS estimates that 21,650 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year in the United States and that 15,520 will die from the disease.

As with other diseases, there are risk factors for developing ovarian cancer. Having one or more risk factors does not mean that a woman will develop this type of cancer. It means that a woman is at greater risk for developing the disease and should be more aware of her body and any changes that may occur.

These risk factors include: age, genetic predisposition, family or personal history and unwanted infertility.

The teal ribbons and banners that will soon be seen in Frankfort/Franklin County are reminders that September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. The Capitol will also have a teal glow as part of the campaign sponsored by COCO. COCO’s mission is to raise awareness, increase early detection and to improve treatment methods for ovarian cancer.

Visit capitalovariancancer.org for more information on COCO and the many activities they have planned. Information on various cancer screenings is on the Franklin County Health Department’s web site at fchd.org.

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