If you read all of this, I promise to post halloween pictures!
We are aware that ovarian cancer can be one of the deadliest cancers because there are no effective screening methods yet. Due to that, most cases are diagnosed when they have already progressed to the most advanced stages. Many of the symptoms can be very vague and subtle so it is challenging to pinpoint. As of now, there is no definitive blood test, ultrasound, or other effective tool to diagnose ovarian cancer.
Friends keep asking me how did you know? [I didn’t] I am not sure why ovarian cancer symptoms aren’t more widely advertised so that more women are aware. The symptoms are so innocuous that they probably think if they advertise the symptoms that gynecologists everywhere will be inundated with phone calls from bloated women with gas pains!
I am here today to encourage you that when you go for your next exam, please ask for a vaginal ultrasound. Some gyn’s do it routinely, mine did not. If she had we would have seen there was something wrong 5 weeks earlier. [I am not saying that it would have prevented anything for me, but we could have addressed it sooner] All I am saying for you, the folks still reading this [thank you?], is be your own advocate, you know you would do it for your kids, spouse or parents. If your gyn doesn’t or won’t. Find a new one. If you live in Phoenix I can give you a name of a great gyn who does. All gyn offices have the machines right there and it should be routine. It is a tool that could save our lives, not just monitor the new lives that we carried inside us.
The reason ultrasound is important and what makes the diagnosis so difficult is that the ovaries are deep in the abdomen, where they have room to grow before giving rise to symptoms or physical findings. Like I said earlier in this blog, I am lucky because I was vain and didn’t want to buy larger pants. There wasn’t as much room for it to grow in me so I felt it sooner rather than later which was a good thing.
The ovaries, which are normally the size of an almond, about an inch and a half long, can usually be felt in a pelvic examination. But a cancerous ovary may be normal in size and still spread disease. And sometimes overlying muscle and fat prevents doctors from feeling tumors in the abdomen until they grow quite large. My ovary was roughly the size of a grapefruit, yet my gyn did not detect an abnormality 5 weeks before in my exam. [an ultrasound would have shone it] It took a CT scan to show the tumor/mass. that we had to ask for because I was having pain in that area.
So in review ;-) a simple, definitive test to diagnose ovarian cancer in its earliest stage does not yet exist. One current test measures CA-125, an antigen linked to ovarian cancer. [Mine is in normal range now ;-)!] The test can aid in diagnosis and can help doctors monitor the progress of cancer. It is a blood test BUT it is not definitive; the amounts of CA-125 may rise when no ovarian cancer is present, or may be normal when cancer has spread. So it is an unreliable indicator but it is all they have right now which really sucks.
My gynecologist does not do yearly ultrasound exams even though many gynecologists say a combination of the CA-125 test and ultrasound offer the best hope for detecting the cancer at an early stage. Again, if I were you, I would ask for one at your next appointment because if you bothered reading this, you are defiantly worth it!
So remember as I wind this ramble down, ovarian cancer whispers and it may just be an ultra sound that hears.
[FYI: the National Preventive Services Task Force recommended against using CA-125 or ultrasound tests to screen women for ovarian cancer. Some doctors use CA-125 in women at high risk for ovarian cancer, due to genetic markers or family history. If levels of CA-125 rise over several successive tests, this can be a signal to explore further.] [I had no history of ovarian cancer in my family, I am the first that I know of]