Ovarian Cancer — The Importance Of Early Detection

Early detection is the best weapon until this disease is conquered once and for all.

Although ovarian cancer can occur in women of all ages, it is most likely to occur in older females. Women may be at higher risk if they have encountered any of the following: never experienced child birth or given birth to their first child after age 30, experienced unexplained infertility, have had breast cancer or have a family history of hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), or have used estrogen alone as hormone replacement therapy.

Currently there is no definitive test to detect early onset of ovarian cancer. However, there are some tests that might be helpful for women who are at higher risk. See your physician immediately if any of these symptoms persist for more than a few weeks: abdominal pain or unexplained abdominal swelling, a persistent urge to urinate, pelvic pain, or digestive problems such as bloating, gas, appetite loss and/or nausea.

Consider having a pelvic exam as a part of your annual health examination and speak with your doctor about a risk assessment for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer symptoms are not obvious in the early stages, as was the case with Andrea Harris. Her condition was quite advanced when it was finally detected. Living a healthy lifestyle, having regular medical checkups, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating right are simple, common sense ways of maximizing your chances of surviving cancer.

Andrea was exceptionally healthy. She exercised regularly, ate well, never smoked, and always kept her weight at a healthy level, although she had an occasional glass of wine. She felt fairly normal but she did miss some of the early warning signs.

A few of the warning signs that Andrea noticed included a mildly swollen abdomen and fluid retention in her lower legs and feet. It was difficult to notice the subtle physical changes as they occurred over a period of time. When the swelling became more noticeable, Andrea spoke to her husband about the physical changes she was experiencing. The very next day she saw her primary care physician, who immediately ran blood tests, a CT scan, and pelvic examination. Two days after her exam, her doctor told Andrea and husband Bart that she had ovarian cancer and that her abdominal cavity was filled with cancer. It had originated in her fallopian tubes but was not present in any organs other than her fallopian tubes.

Andrea began treatment at The Lurie Cancer Center in Northwestern Memorial's Ovarian Cancer Department. The first course of action was chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the malignant tumors that were surgically available. Andrea also underwent the surgical removal of her appendix, fallopian tubes, a complete hysterectomy, and her ovaries. The surgery was followed by an aggressive course of more chemotherapy. For a brief period of time following treatment there were no signs of cancer. Nonetheless, the cancer returned within three months.

Andrea battled through her new disease with chemotherapy, a clinical trial, and more chemo. The cancer was simply too aggressive. Andrea fought cancer from March of 2015 until her death in early April 2017. It is quite possible that treatment may have saved her life had she not had such a great tolerance for pain and the outward appearance of health.

Early detection is the best weapon until this disease is conquered once and for all. Women should discuss concerns with their obstetrician/gynecologist or primary care physician. Information is also available from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Cancer Society.

Andrea's Hope Foundation's website is not meant to take the place of a healthcare provider's examination, diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment referrals, but rather to encourage women to be aware of their health status and to seek medical care from their physicians and healthcare institutions. Andrea's Hope Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to raising and providing funds for ovarian cancer research and education and for making hospice and other end-of-life care more affordable.