September: ovarian cancer awareness month

Cathy sits nervously in her gynecologist's office. Not feeling quite herself lately, she decides to go early for her yearly check up. Her symptoms present for six months are vague and nonspecific, mostly bloating, mild abdominal discomfort along with backache that keeps her awake at night.

A healthy woman of 43, mother of two, Cathy thinks the doctor will tell her she's perimenopausal and needs hormones, especially since her energy level has been so poor lately. She thinks she's a little young to be experiencing menopause but remembers her mother experiencing menopause in her 40s as well.

After waiting almost an hour, her exam is anything but routine. The doctor seems concerned and orders further tests including a laproscopic peek inside her abdomen. The doctor's fears are confirmed a week later when the pathologist reports late stage ovarian cancer with metastases throughout the abdomen.

Nothing strikes at the very being of a woman more than a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Poorly understood, poorly treated and usually diagnosed in its later stages ovarian cancer strikes 23,000 women yearly in this country, of which 14,000 -- almost 60 percent -- will die from their disease, a grim reality of ovarian cancer.

The Centers for Disease Control show that the incidence of all cancers has declined over the past year by one percent. These numbers reflect earlier detection in lung, prostate, breast and colon cancers but not in ovarian cancer. Without an early detection system or symptoms that herald early ovarian cancer, this disease will continue to be a hidden menace.

A recent study released by The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition suggests that even though the symptoms experienced by women with ovarian cancer are common in healthy women, they are more common and slightly different in nature than women with disease. Researchers asked 168 women with ovarian cancer and 251 similarly-aged healthy women about symptoms of unusual bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, low back pain and lack of energy. The findings showed both groups of women suffered these kinds of symptoms but found that women with ovarian cancer suffered more nausea and complained of their symptoms of backache, abdominal bloating and pain were continuous. Hopefully this study will be a wake up call for women and their physicians.

Women are never too young to be aware of ovarian cancer. Hopefully we will be hearing more soon about this new study and how to detect the early symptoms of ovarian cancer.

What else can we do?

Women with cancer in their families, especially other women, should be aware that the genetic link is there. Although the symptoms of bloating, abdominal pain or back pain may be part of everyday life and living, a woman with this genetic link may find paying attention to these symptoms could save her life.

Practice cancer prevention!

Obesity is a national problem and has been directly linked to cancer. Studies show that if you weigh 20 pounds or more than you did when you graduated from high school, you double your chances of developing cancer.

Eat a diet high in cruciferous vegetables -- broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. A study done at the University of Nebraska suggests that these vegetables, high in natural sulfur, may help your body's immune system recognize and destroy cancer cells before they become tumors.

Use Vitamin E, garlic and selenium.

Vitamin E supplies the body with nutrients that keep your immune system strong. Good for the cardiovascular system, vitamin E helps keep the cells well-oxygenated -- reducing free radical damage that can lead to the development of tumors.

Garlic contains several naturally occurring substances that have been shown to display antitumoral activity. It also helps keep the DNA functioning normally.

Selenium has a direct and positive effect on the immune system. Foods grown in soils today are deplete of selenium and a supplement is advised. Studies show selenium suppresses cancer growth.

A life style that supports an aerobic exercise program, stress reduction such as massage, yoga or other kinds of relaxation techniques along with clean water and healthy diet all play a large role in cancer prevention. Don't take chances with your health; we love you and want you around for a long time to come!

Till next time, Rebecca

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online September 4, 2001

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