Statement on the Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Consensus issued from the Ovarian & Gynecologic Cancer Coalition/Rhonda’s Club and In My Sister’s Care:
“This is a major step forward for ovarian cancer patients and very good news indeed,” said Ann M. Mason, board member and immediate past chair of the Ovarian & Gynecologic Cancer Coalition/Rhonda’s Club, in recognition of the issuance of a national Consensus Statement on the warning signs of ovarian cancer by three national cancer organizations this week.
The national organizations include the American Cancer Society, Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and the Society for Gynecologic Oncologists.
Ovarian cancer advocacy organizations around the country have sought to elevate the importance of symptom awareness for many years. A breakthrough came in the late 1990s when Dr. Barbara Goff, a gynecologic oncologist at the University of Washington, worked hand-in-hand with the late ovarian cancer survivor Cindy Melancon to develop and disseminate a nationwide symptoms survey.
“The results of these studies dispel the myth that ovarian cancer has no symptoms. When I was diagnosed, most physicians were taught that there were no symptoms at early stage,” said Mary Jackson Scroggins, co-founder of In My Sister’s Care and a 10-year survivor. “Now, women will be aware of these four subtle symptoms — bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency) — and when they recur frequently or persist, women will know they should see a doctor, quickly.”
“Ovarian cancer is a sneaky disease,” added Mason, a 10-year survivor, “and most women think persistent bloating and increasing abdominal girth are just part of life. But women know their bodies, and we know when there is something wrong. Now we are better able to recognize when we should take action and see a doctor.”
The Consensus Statement advises women who frequently have any one of four typical symptoms for several weeks to promptly see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. “Early access to a gynecologist is important because when diagnosed early, the 5-year survival rate is over 90 percent,” said Scroggins. “Sadly, many women in the District, in fact, throughout the Washington metropolitan area, do not even have regular access to a primary care physician or the funds if uninsured to seek medical attention, so they have to delay doctor visits. This is a real problem even with the addition of this valuable new tool.”
“This Consensus Statement is basically a medical ‘seal of approval’ that there are symptoms of ovarian cancer — something much of the medical community has denied for years — and is a wake-up call to physicians everywhere to be particularly alert to the symptoms. Since there is no reliable screening test for ovarian cancer, knowledge of symptoms is even more critical,” said Mason.
“This knowledge is vitally important to changing the ovarian cancer picture in our area,” said Scroggins. “An estimated 575 women annually die from ovarian cancer within the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia combined. With public and physician awareness of these symptoms, we may be able to change these numbers — prolong and save lives.”
Not only do our two organizations work to bring awareness to women in this area, they are also working together to bring the stories of ovarian cancer survivorship to area medical schools. “This Consensus Statement reinforces the messages that our volunteers tell in their stories to medical students,” said Charlotte Naschinski, an 11-year survivor and co-chair of the OGCC/Rhonda’s Club medical education program. “This Consensus Statement provides documented evidence, based on several studies, that provides a tool for doctors to improve earlier diagnosis.”