September has been declared to be Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. As a three-year ovarian cancer survivor currently fighting recurrence and advocacy leader for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, I would like to spread awareness of the symptoms and risk factors for this disease.

Although less common than breast cancer, 1 in 72 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. This deadly cancer affects 22,000 American women yearly and in any given year, more than 14,000 lives are lost to the disease. Symptoms are usually subtle, with only 15 percent of women diagnosed at an early stage. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecological cancers. There is no screening test and the overall five-year survival rate of 44 percent has not improved in decades. Pap smears DO NOT detect ovarian cancer.

Symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, and increased urinary frequency. Women at highest risk are those with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer or a genetic mutation, those who have used hormone replacement therapy, and those who have had more menstrual cycles. Risk increases with age. Factors that decrease the risk include removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes, childbearing, breastfeeding, oral contraception use, and tubal ligation. Any woman who is experiencing any of the above symptoms should see their gynecologist immediately and request a CA-125 test and a pelvic ultrasound.

Terri Colclough

advocacy leader, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance