The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Ovarian cancer still the silent killer

A month before she turned 21, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She had visited the gynecologist at 17, complaining of horrible cramps and painful menstrual periods. However, the doctor had simply told her that it was nothing – that it was just the way she was.

At 20, she went in for a routine check-up and pelvic exam. Upon examination, they found that one of her ovaries was the size of a small grapefruit – a far cry from their earlier diagnosis.

They ushered her into surgery that afternoon and after removing the ovary, found that she had malignant cancer. There was about a 75 percent chance that the cancer had metastasized. After running several tests, they found that it had not yet spread throughout her body. Standard procedure at the time was to immediately perform a hysterectomy, however, the doctors mercifully left her with her uterus intact, telling her to return every three months for monitoring. They instructed her to wait five years, have her children, and then have a complete hysterectomy.

She did just that.

A little over a year ago I turned 21 – almost the same age as my mother when she was diagnosed with a disease often referred to today as the silent killer.

On June 13 the New York Times published an article about ovarian cancer. “Symptoms Found for Early Check on Ovary Cancer,” read the headline. According to the article, cancer experts say women suffering from bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating, and an urgent need to urinate frequently for more than two to three weeks should see a doctor.

This is a breakthrough in ovarian cancer research, as previously the cancer was not believed to have any symptoms until the cancer had advanced.

However, even if a woman is experiencing these symptoms, there is not a designated pathway for diagnosis. According to the Times article, if the cancer is found and surgically removed in the early stages, 93 percent of patients survive past the five-year mark, yet only 19 percent of cases are found this early.

Let’s put this into perspective. Ovarian cancer has a 45 percent survival rate while breast cancer, a far more well-known cancer, has an 89 percent survival rate, yet we still see pink ribbons for the fight against breast cancer everywhere we turn.

Breast cancer patients have a much higher survival rate than ovarian cancer patients, yet we only hear about breast cancer. The nation’s news stations sponsor the Buddy Check program. Pink Ribbon paraphernalia is sold everywhere from Tiffany and Company to Wal-Mart. Free breast cancer screenings are commonly offered to those who cannot afford them.

However, in contrast, ovarian cancer is rarely mentioned. It is misdiagnosed about 36 percent of the time often allowing for crucial months to pass by during which the cancer can spread throughout the rest of the body. In the United States alone 22,430 people are expected to be diagnosed with the disease, and only 7,150 of them are expected to live.

With such staggering statistics, one would think that ovarian cancer screenings offered at no or low cost across the nation would be standard procedure. However, this is not the case. The best way to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer is to undergo an ultrasound, a procedure that may not be covered by insurance companies and can cost $150 and up. For a routine screening, $150 is no chump change. For young college students working and scraping away to get through college, it could mean an annual parking pass or a semester’s worth of books. This is often not a sacrifice we are willing or able to make.

However, it should be a sacrifice taxpayers should be able to make. If the Center for Disease Control is offering free or low cost breast cancer screenings to individuals who cannot afford them, why are they not doing the same to protect women from ovarian cancer?

If these newly acknowledged symptoms for ovarian cancer can help sound the alarm, maybe lives will be saved. Yet it will do us no good to know the symptoms of this silent killer if we have no access to any of the resources necessary for diagnosis.

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