By Karen Oslund

Executive Director, Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County

Dr. John Rochat keeps an old Ann Landers column in the rack of hand-outs for his patients. If you visit his office under the right circumstances, he might pull a photocopy of it out and say, “this is for your friends.”  This Ann Landers column ran in newspapers back in October 2000, and the heading reads “Early detection is the first step to beating ovarian cancer.”

In the column, Ann Landers describes a list of symptoms that could be early warning signs of ovarian cancer, including: abdominal pressure, bloating or discomfort; nausea, indigestion or gas; unexplained weight gain or loss, particularly in the pelvic or abdominal area; pelvic or abdominal swelling, bloating and/or feeling of fullness; urinary frequency, constipation or diarrhea; abnormal bleeding; shortness of breath; pain during intercourse; unusual fatigue.

Ms. Landers, who took over writing the advice column in the 1950s and continued until her death in 2002, was ahead of her time in many ways and there was more research behind her columns than most people knew. This list of symptoms appeared in her advice column seven years before a consensus statement saying basically the same thing was issued by the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists and the American Cancer Society.

Ovarian cancer often escapes detection in its early stages. This is partly because there is a lot of room in the pelvic area for a tumor to grow unimpeded. If you think for a moment about how big a baby can get in the same space before its presence is obvious to the world, you can understand the challenge of noticing a tumor that starts as a few cells and becomes a billion cells by the time it is the size of a pea.

Adding to the challenge of diagnosing ovarian cancer: there is currently no effective screening test for it. And finally, some symptoms of ovarian cancer are dismissed by patients or their providers as just another unfortunate part of getting older: digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating. Raise your hand if you have had those.

To be vigilant against ovarian cancer requires becoming familiar with the early symptoms, knowing your family medical history, paying attention to your body, and following up with medical care when something does not seem right.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 22,240 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2018 and that 14,070 will die of the disease. This is good reason to become familiar with the early symptoms, pay attention to your body, follow up with any concerns, and spread the word to the women in your life. That’s good advice!

The Cancer Resource Centers’ 2018 Cancer Awareness and Prevention series is sponsored by CRC in collaboration with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to replace the advice of your health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your health care provider.  The Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County is a grassroots organization serving our communities since 1995 by providing information, advocacy, and support services free of charge.