Vim & Vigor - Winter 2020 - GMC - 12

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12

Ovarian Cancer:
Clearing Up Confusion

63

Median age
at which
ovarian cancer
is diagnosed
in the U.S.
Source: American
Cancer Society

Ovarian cancer is the second most common
gynecological cancer in the U.S., and yet
there is no screening protocol. Also, there is
confusion for women visiting a gynecologist.
For example, some women assume they are
screened for ovarian cancer during their
annual Pap smear, but the test screens only
for cervical cancer, says Melissa Aucoin, chief
executive officer of the National Ovarian
Cancer Coalition, a nonprofit promoting ovarian cancer education. "That's a big myth," she
says, "and our biggest obstacle is to educate
women who think they are being screened [for
ovarian cancer] on an annual basis." Because
of this confusion, some women who should be
tested for ovarian cancer aren't.
Another hurdle: Ovarian cancer rarely has
symptoms that are easy to distinguish. "The
signs and symptoms are really subtle and
usually resemble other benign conditions,"
Aucoin says. Anything from bloating and
abdominal pain to feeling full can be a sign
of ovarian cancer, she adds.

PHOTO AND ICONS BY GETTY IMAGES

detection of cancer saves lives. You've probably
heard of this phrase to explain how doctors
have the best chance at beating a disease when
there's time to treat it before it progresses.
But you might not realize that for some cancers, many people are not given the opportunity
for early detection.
Though mammograms can help identify
breast cancer early and colonoscopies can help
locate colon polyps, a precursor to colon cancer,
many other types of cancers are not recommended for early screening. Most of us aren't
screened for ovarian, pancreatic, gastric and
endometrial cancers unless there are specific
reasons, such as family history.
"For some cancers, there is not a test that's
been shown to save lives," says Maxwell C.
McDonald, MD, an oncology specialist and
member of the American Society of Clinical
Oncology. "In some instances, we don't have
the ability to diagnose cancers at an early
enough stage to improve mortality."
As a result, many of these cancers aren't
diagnosed until they are advanced.
So what to do about these "un-screenable"
cancers? For starters, raising awareness can
make it easier to get relevant information into
the right hands. And a little bit of cancer education can go a long way; in the U.S. alone,
roughly 1.8 million people received a cancer
diagnosis in 2019.
Here is what we know now-and what you
can do now-about common cancers for which
screening is typically not recommended.

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Vim & Vigor - Winter 2020 - GMC

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