Women's intuition can be a powerful thing: Every time I squeeze in a round of golf instead of running errands, my wife knows it by the time I've walked in the front door! This kind of sixth sense isn't just useful to your marriage, but also to your health. It's important that we all listen to that little voice that whispers, "Hey, something isn't right here."
For women, it could save your life when it comes to ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system – more than 15,000 deaths are expected in 2008, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The reason for this startling statistic is because many women aren't catching it early. This is particularly true in the African American community – in general, people in our community are diagnosed with various cancers at later stages than our white counterparts due to lack of screenings and other obstacles.
Put it this way: If ovarian cancer is found and treated before the cancer has spread outside the ovary, the 5-year survival rate is over 90 percent. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of all ovarian cancers are found at this early stage, according to ACS. Early symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal swelling or bloating, pressure or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and having to urinate urgently or often. Sound familiar?
Sure, because these are the same symptoms you might have when you eat too much spicy food, or have an easy-to-treat (and common) urinary tract infection. But when the symptoms are caused by ovarian cancer they tend to be more severe and are a change from how a woman usually feels. And that's the critical point: knowing and listening to your body close enough to distinguish a difference.
When it comes to ovarian cancer, it's important to know your risk factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most significant risk factor for ovarian cancer is having an inherited mutation in one of two genes called breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) and gene 2 (BRCA2). In addition to causing some breast cancers, they're also responsible for about 5 percent to 10 percent of ovarian cancers. Other risk factors include your age, whether or not you've had children, a history of infertility, and childhood obesity.
Few things cause patients more fear and uncertainty than a cancer diagnosis. But today ovarian cancer increasingly can be managed and even beaten, especially when it's detected early. According to a recent survey by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, there are now 47 new medicines in development for ovarian cancer, including one potential medicine that works to stimulate the body's immune system to kill the tumors by attacking the proteins that it releases into the bloodstream.
Patients who need help accessing their prescription medicines for ovarian cancer and other conditions can turn to the Partnership for Prescription Assistance for information. Since its launch in April 2005, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance has helped connect more than 5 million patients in need to programs that provide either free or nearly free medicines. For more information about how to apply, patients can call 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit www.pparx.org.
Barack Obama's mother died of ovarian cancer at age 53. Gilda Radner, the beloved "Saturday Night Live" comedian, died of the disease in 1989 at the age of 43. Learn from these women: Visit your gynecologist regularly and alert him or her to any changes you've noticed, and to any important facts about your family health history. Lastly, listen to your body when you're feeling a little "off" – it might just be telling you something.
Larry Lucas is a vice president for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)