The disease that whispers: symptoms and diagnosis of ovarian cancer

Jodi Schellenberg
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With a survival rate of 30 per cent and symptoms that could easily be confused for something else, ovarian cancer has been dubbed “the disease that whispers.”

Walk of Hope

“We just want to do whatever we can to make everybody aware,” said Catherine Mazurkewich, on of the Saskatoon Walk of Hope chairs. “You would be surprised the number of, especially older women, that don’t even want to talk about it. You don’t talk about women’s private parts.

“We actually had people who would come by and we would ask, ‘Do you know anything about ovarian cancer?’ They would say, ‘I don’t want to know. That’s down there.’ It is quite interesting to see because it is a difficult subject to talk about.”

Some of the symptoms are confused with regular symptoms many women get during their menstrual cycle, such as bloating, abdominal cramping, constipation, fatigue, frequent urination, becoming full easily and increased abdominal girth.

“It is overlooked when you go to the doctor’s office because a lot of times they tell you it’s nothing, it’s common and it happens all the time,” Mazurkewich said. “That’s why ovarian cancer is the most overlooked and under diagnosed or misdiagnosed.

“It is usually diagnosed in the later stages and by that time, it becomes very difficult for treatment and women’s chance of survival is less than 30 per cent in five years. That it is why it is most important, first of all, that women become aware of this.”

The other problem with getting ovarian cancer diagnosed is there is no early detection test.

“It is kind of surprising how little women actually know about it and that they think a PAP test will diagnose them for ovarian cancer,” she said. “When we tell them no, it doesn’t, they are shocked.

“I think for most of us, the ultimate wish or the ultimate goal, is to first of all get that early detection or a screening test because there is nothing out there,” she added. “The only way you can go is (to) go for further investigation if your doctor suspects that.”

There is a blood test called the CA 125 that could be an indicator that there is something wrong, but the test also detects stomach problems such as ulcers.

If the blood test comes back positive, the next steps are a transvaginal ultrasound and then a biopsy.

“It is important to be your own advocate because nobody else is really going to look out for you,” Mazurkewich said. “You think you are putting your life in everybody else’s hands but truly women have to learn to be their own advocate too.”

For more information about the Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope, click here.

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