September is ovarian cancer awareness month. Research is crucial to help
prevent, detect and treat this disease
TORONTO, Sept. 19, 2011 /CNW/ - Catterina McDonald was 40 years old when
she found out she was expecting her first child. She was thrilled. She
and her husband had been married for 17 years and had been unable to
conceive. After an uneventful pregnancy, she gave birth by C-section to
a healthy baby girl.
Six weeks later, at her first post-partum checkup, Catterina's doctor in
Saskatoon was concerned that her uterus felt too large and sent her for
an ultrasound the next day. The ultrasound showed that she had a large
mass in her abdomen measuring 19.8 centimetres (8 inches) in diameter -
about the size of a soccer ball.
The mass was surgically removed a few days later. Then, within a couple
of weeks, the diagnosis: an aggressive form of ovarian cancer -
While Catterina's diagnosis was shocking, it is not uncommon for
symptoms of ovarian cancer to be missed. In fact, ovarian cancer in its
early stages often does not cause any obvious symptoms and there is no
reliable screening test or tool for early detection.
"I remember coming home that day and telling my sister-in-law, who was
taking care of the baby, that I had ovarian cancer. It was like life
was standing still and I couldn't believe what I was saying."
If caught early, ovarian cancer can be successfully treated but about
75% of cases are diagnosed at advanced stages. Despite improvements in
surgical techniques and chemotherapy, the five year relative survival
rate for advanced stage ovarian cancer patients is only 15 to 25%.
"The hardest decision of my life was whether to have a total abdominal
hysterectomy or to play Russian roulette and assume that they had got
all the cancer during the first surgery," she says. "I wanted to have
another baby more than anything in the world but I also wanted to be
around to watch my daughter grow up."
Catterina opted for the radical hysterectomy. This time, the news was
good - the cancer had been caught early. "We waited for the pathology
report, not knowing if chemo or other treatments would follow, but we
were told that the cancer had not spread beyond my ovary."
Seven years later, Catterina remains cancer-free but the experience had
been life-changing. "It took a long time for me to face the trauma that
I had experienced. I needed to find someone to talk to so I called the
Canadian Cancer Society's peer support program, CancerConnection. They matched me up with one of their trained volunteers who had been
through a similar diagnosis and experience. She was a great support for
Catterina's daughter is now 7 years old. "I am enjoying being a mom and
celebrating the beauty of each day."
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month
"Ovarian cancer affects thousands of Canadian women and their families
every year," says Heather Chappell, the Canadian Cancer Society's
director of cancer control policy. "Continuing research and awareness
will be key to finding better ways to detect and treat this devastating
About ovarian cancer
There are several different types of ovarian cancer. While every case is
different, ovarian cancer in its early stages often does not cause any
obvious symptoms. It is sometimes called "the cancer that whispers."
When symptoms do arise, they can be vague and easily mistaken for more
common problems. Symptoms can include:
abdominal discomfort, pressure or pain or swelling
change in bowel habits
feeling full after a light meal
indigestion or gas
Often these symptoms are caused by other health problems, not cancer.
If you have symptoms that increase in intensity or severity or last
longer than 2 to 3 weeks, don't ignore them. Contact your doctor. Know
Screening and early detection
There is currently no reliable screening test or tool for the early
detection of ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer statistics
About 2,600 Canadian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this
year and 1,750 will die from it. If caught early, ovarian cancer can be
successfully treated but about 75% of cases are diagnosed at advanced
stages. Despite advances in surgical techniques and chemotherapy, the
five-year relative survival rate for advanced stage ovarian cancer
patients is only 15 to 25%.
There is no single cause of ovarian cancer, but studies have suggested
that some factors appear to increase the risk of developing it:
age - particularly after 50
personal history of cancer
family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer or colon, uterine or
never having been pregnant
taking hormone replacement therapy (especially estrogen-only therapy)
for a long period of time
exposure to asbestos
Other possible risk factors are being studied. Some women develop
ovarian cancer without any of these risk factors. Most women with
ovarian cancer do not have a family history of the disease. Also, many
women who have risk factors do not get ovarian cancer.
What the Canadian Cancer Society is doing
The Society is currently funding nearly $1 million in ovarian cancer
research to better prevent, detect and treat ovarian cancer, including:
a prevention study looking at the possible roles of vitamin D,
anti-inflammatory medications and talcum powder in the development of
a study focusing on how a group of proteins (called BMPs) that are
produced by ovarian cancer cells help to fuel the growth of ovarian
cancer. Understanding the initial molecular changes that can cause
normal cells of the ovary to become cancer cells will help lead to new
strategies for prevention and early detection of ovarian cancer
a study of how ovarian cancers begin, how they progress, what hormones
affect their rate of growth and what new treatments can reduce tumour
If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you probably have many
questions and concerns. We offer a broad range of support services and
information for people living with cancer, their caregivers, family and
friends. For more information, please call us toll-free at 1 888
939-3333, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Canadian Cancer Society fights cancer by doing everything we can to
prevent cancer, save lives and support people living with cancer. Join
the fight! Go to fightback.ca to find out how you can help. When you want to know more about cancer,
visit our website at cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888
SOURCE Canadian Cancer Society (National Office)
For further information:
Canadian Cancer Society