MDCH Recognizes National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Day

Contact: T.J. Bucholz (517) 241-2112
Agency: Community Health

September 5, 2007

In recognition of September 7, 2007 Ovarian Cancer National Awareness Day, the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), the Michigan Cancer Genetics Alliance (MCGA), and the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance would like to encourage wearing the color teal to raise the awareness of ovarian cancer and to promote early recognition of symptoms.

Additionally, Governor Jennifer M. Granholm and President George W. Bush have recently declared September as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.

"Greater awareness of ovarian cancers and its symptoms are needed, and can start with simple steps such as wearing the color teal on September 7," said Janet Olszewski, MDCH Director. "It is not commonly known that ovarian cancer ranks second among gynecological cancers, and accounts for about 3 percent of all cancers among women."

In Michigan alone, 516 women died from ovarian cancer in 2004, and 751 women were newly diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003. According to Carolyn Benivegna, nine-year ovarian cancer survivor-activist and Michigan resident, "Heightened awareness of ovarian cancer, early diagnosis, and specialized care with a gynecologic oncologist can improve survival rates dramatically. Women must know their bodies, take control of their health care, and learn all they can about this disease to improve their chance of survival."

Early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer is critical to increasing the number of survivors. Only 19 percent of new ovarian cancer cases in Michigan are diagnosed in the early/localized stage. Early diagnosis and specialized care leads to better outcomes and a greatly improved overall five-year relative survival rate (compared to late/distant stage). Diagnosis of ovarian cancer at an early stage is difficult due to the lack of an effective screening test and lack of awareness of symptoms and risk factors.

Because there are common myths that can delay early detection, it is crucial to get the facts about ovarian cancer. For instance, ovarian cancer cannot be diagnosed through a Pap smear or other routine screening and women without ovaries are still at risk for ovarian cancer. Recent studies have shown women reporting the following symptoms, which were not previously recognized:

- Bloating

- Pelvic or abdominal pain

- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Other symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, constipation, menstrual irregularities, and pain with intercourse. Women should consult their physician, preferably a gynecologist, for a thorough and prompt medical examination if they experience these symptoms persistently (occurring daily and lasting for more than a few weeks), and if these symptoms have not been commonly experienced in the past.

Ovarian cancer can affect women at any age or of any ethnicity; however, the risk for ovarian cancer increases with age. Additionally, an important risk factor for ovarian cancer is a personal or family history of cancer, especially ovarian, endometrial, breast and/or colorectal cancer.

It is expected that even greater awareness of ovarian cancer will occur due to the 2007 passage of "Johanna's law" or "Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act" (HR1245; S1172). This law was sponsored by Michigan Senator Carl Levin and others and is named for Johanna Silver Gordon, a lifelong Michigan resident and schoolteacher. It will create a federal gynecologic cancer education campaign to improve early detection.