Common symptoms may be sign of ovarian cancer, early detection is key

Ovarian cancer used to be called the silent killer because it was not found until it spread to other parts of the body.

Your chances of survival are better if it is caught early, but that only happens in 20 percent of patients.

And the only two doctors who specialize in ovarian cancer in Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan are right here in Michiana.

They say ovarian cancer is not a silent disease, but one that "whispers."

Since September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month we decided to take a look at our best "defense" in a special Medical Moment.

Maureen "Moe" Carr, 57, has been in the battle of her life for the last four years. That doesn't mean she's not making plans, like getting ready for Buchanan's upcoming Apple Festival.

The married dental hygienist says her world turned upside down when, at 52, she was getting ready to go in for her regular checkup.

Carr started poking around and says, “I felt something that didn't seem quite right.”

She said she had no symptoms.

Within two days, Carr was sent to see Dr. Michael Method of Michiana Hematology Oncology, who said the symptoms of ovarian cancer are vague. So vague, that in the 1990's he and a research colleague helped launch the "Whisper So Listen" campaign.

Dr. Method said, “They're bloating, abdominal extension, some G.I. Symptoms, urinary frequency.”

Carr was shocked by her ovarian cancer since she always got annual checkups.

“It was like a slit down the middle, but instead of one tumor he found two tumors and one was the size of a grapefruit, and one was the size of a lemon.”

Carr has been on and off chemo since her surgery four years ago. “I've lost my hair three times already. I've got a little bit coming back again.”

And she had more surgery to remove cancer just five weeks ago.

Dr. Method now has her taking part in investigational molecular profiling, a kind of "individualized treatment" designed for the patient.

“The drug that I'm on is used for lung cancers which has nothing to do with ovarian cancer, but by the behavior of the tumor that's in you right now, that's the drug that's going to be more specific," says Carr.

But how do you know if there's trouble? The symptoms, although vague, are persistent abdominal extension, bloated feelings and urinary frequency.

So, what type of tests should we be asking for when we go to our doctor?

“The first thing is a good examination and one thing I am surprised to see so many women who come to my office and when they had had these symptoms, what hasn't been done by primary care physicians or the person they are seeing at the time," says Dr. Method.

Your exam should include a pelvic exam done by a doctor who has had experience feeling the rectum, vagina, ovaries, uterus and cervix.

Dr. Method says while there is no screening test for ovarian cancer there is promising work being done to better determine whether a woman needs surgery.

“C125 and, or, OVA1 and now the HE4, those tests can say, okay do I need to worry about these symptoms and is this ovarian cancer? If those tests are negative, then you can say something else is causing those symptoms, follow that pathway. If any of those are positive, special evaluation, gynecological oncologist.”

In 1980, women diagnosed with late stage ovarian cancer had a 7 percent survival rate.

“Currently, however, our ten year survival rate, all comers, is 40 percent,” says Dr. Method.

And the new testing he talked about could have a huge impact on that number if women are diagnosed earlier.

Dr. Method says, “If I can change that paradigm and I can get 50 percent of my patients diagnosed at an early stage, there's a 75-80 percent cure rate in patient's that get stage one.”

With her new treatment plan, Carr is back to work and enjoying the refuge she has set up in her backyard to makes sure the squirrels don't go hungry, and decided to splurge on a blast from her past: a 1971 Volkswagen Bug to take her into the future.

Doctor Method stresses that women need to listen to that whisper, or signs that something could be wrong. He also says if your doctor does not take you seriously, you should find another one.

Gynecological cancers don't just hit women in menopause. On Thursday, Maureen will introduce you to a woman who was just 23 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer, shortly after her wedding.

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