Often called the "disease that whispers" Ovarian cancer causes more deaths among women than any other type of reproductive cancer.
The symptoms are often vague and women and their doctors often blame them on more common conditions.
By the time the cancer is diagnosed, the tumor has often spread beyond the ovaries often leading to death.
But as we learn in a special Maureen's Medical Moment local cancer doctors are now treating Ovarian cancer as a chronic disease and it's extending the lives of many women fighting this often deadly disease.
One of them is Billie Dee Plasterer of Lagrange, Indiana. When she reached menopause she did what many women do, saying "I knew I was having a problem in some way but I didn't know what, so I thought, 'Oh it will go away.' "
But when Billie's stomach started bloating and she looked as if she was pregnant, she went to the doctor.
That was twelve years ago. Billie Dee had Ovarian Cancer has been treated by Dr. Michael Method, a Gynecologic Oncologist with Hematology Oncology, Inc. ever since.
Billie Dee says, "From then on, I found Dr. Method who was a blessing in disguise."
Because Ovarian Cancer symptoms are vague, it's often not diagnosed until the later stages and about 3 out of 4 women survive just 1 year.
Dr. Method says 8 out of 10 women will have vague symptoms 6 to 9 months prior to diagnosis.
Symptoms like: Bloating, back pain, weight gain or loss, abdominal discomfort, problems with digestion, abnormal menstrual cycle, constipation or urinary frequency.
Any symptoms like these, lasting more than a few weeks, should be checked out by your doctor.
While there is no approved screening for ovarian cancer, Dr. Method says there is testing that can be done if doctor's suspect ovarian cancer. "It's not something you walk in for in an annual exam, asymptomatic and say I want a CA-125. No, that's not appropriate. But if you come in with symptoms and they've persisted for a period of time, three to four weeks, then it is absolutely appropriate to ask for testing."
Dr. Method explains how seeing a Gynecologic Oncologist, who treat the cancer as chronic rather than acute, is extending lives for women like Billie Lee.
That's the approach Dr. Method and his partner, Dr. Michael Rodriquez have been using for years, saying, "We have 50 percent of patients that are surviving 5 years or longer and it's because of referral to sub specialists early, appropriate surgery and aggressive chemotherapy. We all are treating our patients as if this disease can be a disease you can live wit,h and live successfully with, for many years."
Just ask Billie Dee, a 12-year survivor getting ready to celebrate her 52nd wedding anniversary with her husband, Carl. Currently undergoing a maintenance dose of chemo she says, "I feel very good and very blessed."
And Dr. Method, who is also working in collaboration with Notre Dame and Indiana University researchers in South Bend working on a screening test and a better understanding of how the disease works, is confident we will have a definite screening test for ovarian cancer in the not-so distant future.
"Absolutely I think we're close, it's going to be in our lifetime absolutely!"
Turning ovarian cancer from a disease that whispers into one doctors can diagnose and treat before it's too late.
Dr. Method and Dr. Rodriquez are the only gynecologic oncologist sub-specialists in northern Indiana.
They are involved in clinical trials and are also using the F-D-A approved drug, Avastin which, for some women, keeps the cancer from spreading.