Health Notes - February

Carol Story, MN, RN – Faith Community Nurse

This week I accompanied my sister to a symposium on Blood Cancers sponsored by the Mayo Clinic. My sister has had a type of blood cancer disorder for 12 years. A repeat bone marrow biopsy recently showed evidence that the disease had progressed to Myelofibrosis. This is defined as a chronic leukemia or blood cancer that seriously affects the regular blood cell formation in the body. This disease produces scarring (hardness) on the bone marrow causing fatigue, weakness and anemia and it also affects the liver causing enlarged liver and spleen. Because of anemia, she had the first, one of many to come, blood transfusions last week.Fortunately, research has developed medications that assist in slowing the disease process, but not curing it.

Why am I telling you this? Being at the symposium reminded me that many of us become complacent thinking that cancer happens to other people. So I gathered some materials and thought I would share with you some signs and symptoms that might easily be overlooked and that we may classify as “aging”. I am starting with ovarian cancer because my son’s best friends’ wife was diagnosed with late stage advanced ovarian cancer and will leave two young children behind. Many of you have young granddaughters and nieces. Share this information with them too.

What everyone should know about ovarian cancer:
Ovarian cancer is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the ovary. Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from all gynecologic cancers and the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 22,000 American women will be diagnosed this year and 13,850 will die of the disease.

Because each woman diagnosed has a different profile, it is impossible to give a general prognosis. If diagnosed and treated early when the cancer is confined to the ovary, the five-year survival rate is nearly 93%. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer symptoms are non-specific and there is no effective screening test for the disease. Most women are diagnosed at advanced stages and fewer than 50% live longer that five years after diagnosis.

Ovarian Cancer Risk Factors:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Personal or family history of breast, ovarian, colon, or rectum cancer
  • Increasing age
  • Never pregnant
  • Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy
  • Obesity

Can Ovarian Cancer be Prevented? At present, there is no known method to prevent it but some things appear to reduce the risk:

  1. Oral contraception
  2. Breast feeding and pregnancy
  3. Tubal ligation
  4. Hysterectomy, and
  5. Preventive Surgery – removing ovaries and fallopian tubes.

Cardinal Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

  • Bloating, swelling of the stomach, sudden weight gain
  • Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Feeling the need to urinate urgently or often

Other Symptoms Can Include:

  • Fatigue, feeling very tired all the time
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Constipation
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or menstrual changes

These symptoms are common for women, and may not mean there’s ovarian cancer. If, however, these symptoms are new and persist daily for more than two or three weeks, ask your health care provider about ovarian cancer. If there is any suspicion of Ovarian Cancer – ask for or be referred to a gynecologic oncologist before undergoing surgery.

Diagnostic Tests for Ovarian Cancer: 

  • Annual physical exam including rectum/vaginal simultaneously feeling for abnormal swelling or tenderness.
  • Transvaginal sonogram ultrasound probe inserted into the vagina and it creates a picture (A PAP TEST DOES NOT DETECT OVARIAN CANCER)
  • Blood test to determine the level of a tumor marker called CA-125 is elevated. Is found in 80% of women with advanced ovarian cancer. It may, however, miss it, so the above tests are very important. Don’t ignore the symptoms.

Treatment Options for Ovarian Cancer, Three Main Types:

Surgery – to remove the cancerous growth
Chemotherapy – follow-up therapy to surgery
Radiation Therapy – not commonly used here in the United States

In conclusion, I want to encourage every woman in our congregation to have a conversation with their daughters, grand-daughters, sisters, nieces and female friends about this cancer. It is curable if detected in early stages. A gynecologists exam should be on every woman’s list of things to do in 2017!