nearly 14,000 ovarian cancer-related deaths in 2010, ovarian cancer is the
number one cause of deaths from gynecologic cancers and the fifth most common
cause of cancer-related deaths in women. Over 70% of women diagnosed with
ovarian cancer already have advanced disease, which is much more difficult to
treat. With a cure rate of lower than 40%, there is presently no screening test
for this cancer.
September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is teaming up with Avon Books to help spread the word to women about this deadly disease in seven special Avon editions.
Through this partnership, the K.I.S.S. and Teal message will become available to millions of readers of the romance genre. Avon has donated $25,000 to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and has pledged up to another $25,000, with 25¢ contributed from the sale of each hard copy and e-book between August 30, 2011 and February 28, 2012. These contributions will help fund programs that provide support for ovarian cancer patients and their families.
Dr. Karen Orloff Kaplan, CEO of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, spoke with the New York Journal of Books about the partnership with Avon Books and the importance of spreading education about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
New York Journal of Books: What is the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance? Why is it important for women to be aware of the risk of ovarian cancer?
Dr. Karen Kaplan: The Ovarian Cancer National Alliance is an organization that brings together patients and survivors of ovarian cancer, healthcare professionals, and advocates of women’s health to help provide education about ovarian cancer.
So many women have been touched by ovarian cancer.
Every 37 minutes, a woman dies from this disease.
The goals of the OCNA include educating women and health care professionals about the symptoms and risks of ovarian cancer. One of the programs of the Alliance, Survivors Teaching Students, helps spread the messages of hope by bringing survivors of ovarian cancer to the classrooms of future doctors, nurses, and physician assistants to share their experiences. In addition, the Alliance’s annual conference on ovarian cancer is an opportunity for researchers, healthcare professionals, survivors, and caregivers to discuss the newest research findings and dedicate a day to patient advocacy.
One of our major goals is to educate women about how to recognize the potential signs of ovarian cancer. The annual conference is a great way to do this because the approximately 350 cancer survivors who attend from across the United States are able to go back to their communities and spread the word about what they’ve learned, and to continue to educate other women about this disease.
NYJB: What are some of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer?
KK: Ovarian cancer is a silent killer in that there is no early detection test, no screening test, and there is a prevalent belief that there are no symptoms; however, it’s essential for women to be aware that there are several symptoms of ovarian cancer to look out for.
Experts agree that these symptoms can include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and feelings of urinary urgency. It’s especially important to be aware of these symptoms if they are unusual and persistent, lasting a couple of weeks or more.
important characteristic of ovarian cancer is that it is closely related to
breast cancer: For women who have had either breast or ovarian cancer, there is
a higher risk of developing the other cancer type.
NYJB: What are some other risks for developing ovarian cancer? Is there a hereditary or family-related risk for this disease? Is there anything that women can do to reduce their risk for ovarian cancer?
KK: There is certainly a genetic component: for women who have close relatives who have had breast or ovarian cancer, then there is a higher risk for these women for ovarian cancer. Other factors, such as reproductive history, infertility, obesity, and use of hormone replacement therapies may also contribute to a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer.
Researchers know that ovarian cancer is a largely hormone-based disease. Studies have shown that using oral contraceptives for 5 years or longer can reduce a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 50%. In addition, prevention of ovulation by other means may also reduce this risk.
Knowing whether you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer is certainly important so that you can look out for potential symptoms of these cancers; however, we recommend that a woman consult with her physician or healthcare professional to discuss her particular risks for this cancer.
NYJB: What steps do you recommend for women who notice some of the symptoms that may be associated with ovarian cancer?
KK: If these symptoms are not usual, it may be useful to keep a record to show to your physician. For this reason, on the Alliance’s website women can print and download a free symptom diary. This useful tool can help women track their symptoms and have a log to share with their doctor. Because the symptoms of ovarian cancer could also be symptoms of other conditions, keeping a log that shows the persistence of these symptoms may help a woman’s physician make a more accurate diagnosis.
One of the Alliance’s missions is to empower women to know when to go to their doctors and ask them the right questions. Being informed about the questions and issues surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer is an important part of education about this disease.
For this reason, additional information guides, including frequently asked questions, risk factors, potential treatments, as well as other resources, are available on the OCNA website.
NYJB: If a woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, what are some steps that she can take?
KK: For women diagnosed with this disease, the Alliance offers several means of support. Women with questions or in need of assistance can call the Alliance’s toll-free number, and can also take part in the Support Community message boards.
free online community has over 200,000 members and can help members find
answers to questions about many topics, including treatment side effects and
disease awareness and fundraising, and also gives members a place to grieve and
NYJB: Can the Alliance help women diagnosed with ovarian cancer find clinical trials that they are eligible to enroll in?
KK: Yes, the OCNA partners with Emerging Med, a clinical trial matching service, to help women find the clinical trials that they are most likely to be eligible for, and helps provide the contact information associated with these trials. The Alliance can also help women navigate through the Emerging Med website to find clinical trials they may be able to enroll in.
However, the Alliance does not give medical advice or endorse any specific products, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, or clinical trials. The role of the OCNA is to direct women to the sources that can give them the best and most complete amount of information as possible.
NYJB: In addition to the OCNA’s programs, how will its partnership with Avon
Books and the K.I.S.S. and Teal message help raise awareness about ovarian
KK: Avon Books has a very wide readership, primarily women, and seven newly released, specially marked books will contain a bound insert listing the symptoms and risks of ovarian cancer.
Increasing the number of women we can reach will make it much easier to increase the awareness of this disease. It’s up to women to be in control of their health and be vigilant against the symptoms of ovarian cancer.