Ovarian cancer is hard to detect. It picks and chooses its victims at random, often without warning or predisposition. It is a particularly deadly cancer, especially when discovered in the late stages.
And the worst part is that there is no direct test for it.
“Many people mistakenly believe the pap test detects ovarian cancer,” said Debra Battista, New Jersey Chapter manager for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. “It does not. It tests for cervical cancer. There currently is no test for ovarian cancer.”
To help raise awareness about the disease and to raise fund to eventually develop a test, the New York and New Jersey chapters of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition will hold their 1st Annual Run/Walk at Liberty State Park on Saturday, April 2.
“We will be celebrating ovarian cancer survivors, family, friends and the local community,” Battista said.
The National Ovarian Cancer Organization is the oldest and largest ovarian cancer organization in the United States, and the only one that has “feet on the street” in communities across the nation.
The 5K run/walk in Liberty State Park is one of 20 such events that will be held nationwide in 2016.
“I lost my sister to ovarian cancer,” Battista said. “That’s one of the reasons I joined the organization. I wanted to save other people from going through what we went through. The statistics are scary. One in every 75 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body, and the triggers that start the uncontrolled growth can be mysterious.
The ovaries are a female’s reproductive glands, and produce eggs (ova) for reproduction. The eggs travel through the fallopian tubes into the uterus where the fertilized egg implants and develops into a fetus. The ovaries are also the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. One ovary is on each side of the uterus in the pelvis.
“There currently is no test for ovarian cancer.” – Debra Battista
The ACS predicts that about 22,280 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 2016, and that about 14,240 women will die from the disease during the same time period.
Although there are several types of ovarian cancer, the most prevalent targets older women. Nearly half the women who are diagnosed are 63 or older. It is more common in white women than African-American women.
According to the Center for Disease Control’s website, some women carry certain genetic changes in their BRCA genes that increase their risk for getting breast, ovarian, and other kinds of cancers at a young age. BRCA stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene. There are two BRCA genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. Normally, they help protect women from getting cancer. But when changes or mutations on one or both BRCA genes occur, cells are more likely to divide and change rapidly, which can lead to cancer.
Without treatment, women with a BRCA gene mutation are seven times more likely to get breast cancer and 30 times more likely to get ovarian cancer before age 70 than other women. The CDC offers an online questionnaire that estimates a woman’s risk of having a BRCA gene mutation based on her personal and family history of cancer. It looks at how many people in her family have had breast or ovarian cancer, how they are related, and how old they were when they got cancer. The more information a woman enters about her family’s history of cancer, the more accurate the estimate will be.
The Know BRCA Tool can be found at https://www.knowbrca.org.
A message of hope
The walk, Battista said, is to provide people with hope for the future and to deliver a positive message about community support.
“We’re trying to bring awareness to community about the disease and to make it clear that women are their own best healthcare. They need to know their own bodies. There a symptoms,” Battista said. “A woman should know her family history, her body and the signs.”
Ovarian cancer may cause several signs and symptoms. Women are more likely to have symptoms if the disease has spread beyond the ovaries, but even early-stage ovarian cancer can cause them. The most common symptoms include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms such as urgency (always feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often).
The five-year survival rate for women with ovarian cancer is about 45 percent. Women diagnosed before age 65 tend to do better than older women. If ovarian cancer is found (and treated) before the cancer has spread outside the ovary, the 5-year relative survival rate is 92 percent. However, only 15 percent of all ovarian cancers are found at this early stage.
“It is not heredity, but there can be a genetic predilection,” Battista said.
But the scariest part is that the disease seems to strike at random. She said nobody knows why people get it.
As the state manager for the National Ovarian Cancer Organization, Battista said she is trying to raise awareness, and do more to help women live longer, and the April 2 event is also designed to celebrate those who have survived.
The NOCC’s mission is to fight to prevent and cure ovarian cancer, and to improve the quality of life for survivors. Funds raised through the Run/Walk support the NOCC’s local and national awareness campaigns, survivor programs, and research initiatives, including partnership with Stand Up 2 Cancer to support a groundbreaking Ovarian Cancer Research Dream Team.
“This is a community outreach event, and will become an annual event,” she said. “But we need to get the community involved. But we work with volunteers. We have about 50 volunteers in New Jersey. We sponsor health fair, survivor programs and other events.”
The cost to for the April 2 walk is $35 for adults if they sign up before March 31. You can register on line at Nnocc.kintera.org/nyc.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.