Advocacy Outlook: The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition

Elizabeth Jewell, MD, MHSc
Medical Scientific Advisory Board Member,
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
Gynecologic Oncology,
Department of Medicine and Surgery
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

The National Ovarian Cancer Coalition® has been supporting the women, families, and caregivers affected by ovarian cancer for more than 25 years. With 1 in 75 women being diagnosed with the disease, the NOCC is especially focused during the month of September in bringing earlier awareness of the signs and symptoms of the disease to women throughout the United States and globally. Not Knowing is Killing Us®, their hard-hitting campaign, features actual ovarian cancer survivors with messaging that aims to educate the public on the disease, which takes the lives of more than 14,000 women every year.

NOCC Medical and Scientific Advisory Board Member, Elizabeth Jewell, MD, MHSc, explains the most common signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, even in early stages, as bloating, urinary frequency and urgency, difficulty eating or feeling full despite small amounts of food or liquid, and pelvic or abdominal pain. “In studies, almost half of patients reported abdominal pain/discomfort and abdominal swelling/bloating. It must be noted that these symptoms can also be related to other conditions including benign pelvic masses/endometriosis, intestinal conditions, and urinary infections,” explains Jewell.

Other symptoms reported include fatigue, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation, and changes in menstruation. A physical examination, including an abdominal, pelvic, and rectovaginal examination should be performed. If the physical exam is normal and depending on the clinical situation, a pelvic ultrasound may be ordered. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that all patients with suspicious masses undergo consultation or referral to a gynecologic oncologist, a specialist in ovarian cancer care and surgery.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 70% of women are diagnosed in advanced stages, when prognosis is poor. “Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecologic malignancy and the most common cause of gynecologic death from malignancy,” states Jewell. “The poor prognosis is in large part due to diagnosis at advanced stage. Early stage cancers carry a potential for cure. Screening and early detection of ovarian cancer are ongoing areas of clinical research,” states Jewell.

“We know that early diagnosis increases odds of survival,” states David Barley, CEO of the NOCC. “We want to effect change for the women, families, and caregivers affected by this disease and do what we can to ensure that women are knowledgeable of the signs and symptoms for earlier diagnosis.”

So, you might ask what you should do if you are experiencing these symptoms? The Society of Gynecologic Oncology has reported a consensus statement and suggests that a woman should speak to her doctor, preferably her gynecologist, if these symptoms are experienced daily for more than a few weeks, do not improve in a few weeks, or symptoms are very frequent or severe. It is important to speak with your doctor if symptoms represent a change in your normal bodily functioning. Any one of these signs/symptoms can be the presentation of the disease.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with ovarian cancer, the NOCC is there to help. With 20 chapters across the country, and an online platform for newly-diagnosed patients and survivors to connect with each other, the NOCC is committed to supporting ovarian cancer patients.

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