Today, U.S. President Barack Obama designated September 2014 as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. “This month, our Nation stands with everyone who has been touched by this disease, and we recognize all those committed to advancing the fight against this cancer through research, advocacy, and quality care. Together, let us renew our commitment to reducing the impact of ovarian cancer and to a future free from cancer in all its forms.”
During National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Libby’s H*O*P*E*™ will continue to honor the women who have lost their lives to the disease (including our own Elizabeth “Libby” Remick), support those who are currently battling the disease, and celebrate with those who have beaten the disease. This month, medical doctors, research scientists, and ovarian cancer advocates renew their commitment to develop a reliable early screening test, improve current treatments, discover new groundbreaking therapies, and ultimately, defeat the most lethal gynecologic cancer.
Let us begin this month with several important facts relating to ovarian cancer. Please take time to review these facts — they may save your life or that of a loved one.
Ovarian Cancer Facts
Lethality. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system.
Statistics. In 2014, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be approximately 21,980 new ovarian cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. ACS estimates that 14,270 U.S. women will die from the disease, or about 39 women per day or 1-to-2 women every hour. This loss of life is equivalent to 28 Boeing 747 jumbo jet crashes with no survivors — each and every year.
Signs & Symptoms. Ovarian cancer is not a “silent” disease; it is a “subtle” disease. Recent studies indicate that women with ovarian cancer are more like to experience four persistent, nonspecific symptoms as compared with women in the general population, such as (i) bloating, (ii) pelvic or abdominal pain, (iii) difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, or (iv) urinary urgency or frequency. Women who experience such symptoms daily for more than a few weeks should seek prompt medical evaluation. Note: Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. However, these additional symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women within the general population who do not have the disease.
Age. Although the median age of a woman with ovarian cancer at initial diagnosis is 63, the disease cancer can afflict adolescent, young adult, and mature women. Ovarian cancer does not discriminate based upon age.
Prevention. Pregnancy, breastfeeding, long-term use of oral contraceptives, and tubal ligation reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- BRCA Gene Mutations. Women who have had breast cancer, or who have a family history of breast cancer or ovarian cancer may have increased risk. Women who test positive for inherited mutations in the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene have an increased lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer. A women can inherit a mutated BRCA gene from her mother or father. Women of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish ancestry are at higher risk (1 out of 40) for inherited BRCA gene mutations. Studies suggest that preventive surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes in women possessing BRCA gene mutations can decrease the risk of ovarian cancer.
- Lynch Syndrome. An inherited genetic condition called “hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer” (also called “Lynch syndrome“), which significantly increases the risk of colon/rectal cancer (and also increases the risk of other types of cancers such as endometrial (uterine), stomach, breast, small bowel (intestinal), pancreatic, urinary tract, liver, kidney, and bile duct cancers), also increases ovarian cancer risk.
- Hormone Therapy. The use of estrogen alone menopausal hormone therapy may increase ovarian cancer risk. The longer estrogen alone replacement therapy is used, the greater the risk may be. The increased risk is less certain for women taking both estrogen and progesterone, although a large 2009 Danish study involving over 900,000 women suggests that combination hormone therapy may increase risk. Because some health benefits have been identified with hormone replacement therapy, a women should seek her doctor’s advice regarding risk verses benefit based on her specific factual case.
- Smoking. Smoking has been linked to an increase in mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer.
Early Detection. There is no reliable screening test for the detection of early stage ovarian cancer. Pelvic examination only occasionally detects ovarian cancer, generally when the disease is advanced. A Pap smear cannot detect ovarian cancer. However, the combination of a thorough pelvic exam, transvaginal ultrasound, and a blood test for the tumor marker CA-125 may be offered to women who are at high risk of ovarian cancer and to women who have persistent, unexplained symptoms like those listed above. This early detection strategy has shown promise in a 2013 University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center early detection study involving over 4,000 women. Importantly, another large ovarian cancer screening trial that is using similar early detection methods is under way in the United Kingdom, with results expected in 2015. The U.K. study is called “UKCTOCS” (UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening) and involves over 200,000 women aged 50-74 years.
- Treatment includes surgery and usually chemotherapy.
- Surgery usually includes removal of one or both ovaries and fallopian tubes (salpingo-oophorectomy), the uterus (hysterectomy), and the omentum (fatty tissue attached to some of the organs in the belly), along with biopsies of the peritoneum (lining of the abdominal cavity) and peritoneal cavity fluid.
- In younger women with very early stage tumors who wish to have children, removal of only the involved ovary and fallopian tube may be possible.
- Among patients with early ovarian cancer, complete surgical staging has been associated with better outcomes.
- For women with advanced disease, surgically removing all abdominal metastases larger than one centimeter (debulking) enhances the effect of chemotherapy and helps improve survival.
- For women with stage III ovarian cancer that has been optimally debulked, studies have shown that chemotherapy administered both intravenously and directly into the abdomen (intraperitoneally) improves survival.
- Studies have also found that ovarian cancer patients whose surgeries are performed by a board-certified gynecologic oncologist at a high quality/high surgical volume medical facility have more successful outcomes. Such medical facilities include National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers and member institutions of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
- Patients can enter clinical trials at the start of, during the course of, and even after, their ovarian cancer treatment(s).
- New types of treatment are being tested in ovarian and solid tumor clinical trials, including “biological therapy” and “targeted therapy.” For example, these types of treatment can exploit biological/molecular characteristics unique to an ovarian cancer patient’s specific tumor classification, or better “train” the patient’s own immune system to identify and attack her tumor cells, without harming normal cells.
- If diagnosed at the localized stage, the 5-year ovarian cancer survival rate is 92%; however, only about 15% of all cases are detected at an early stage, usually fortuitously during another medical procedure. The majority of cases (61%) are diagnosed at a distant or later stage of the disease.
- Overall, the 1-, 5-, and 10-year relative survival of ovarian cancer patients is 75%, 44%, and 34%, respectively.
- The 10-year relative survival rate for all disease stages combined is only 38%.
- Relative survival varies by age; women younger than 65 are twice as likely to survive 5 years (56%) following diagnosis as compared to women 65 and older (27%).
Help Spread the Word to “B-E-A-T” Ovarian Cancer
Please help us “B-E-A-T” ovarian cancer by spreading the word about the early warning signs & symptoms of the disease throughout the month of September.
E = eating less and feeling fuller
A =abdominal or pelvic pain
T = trouble with urination (urgency or frequency)
Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. As noted above, early stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis.
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 29, 2014
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Ovarian cancer is the most deadly of all female reproductive system cancers. This year nearly 22,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this cancer, and more than 14,000 will die from it. The lives of mothers and daughters will be taken too soon, and the pain of this disease will touch too many families. During National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we honor the loved ones we have lost to this disease and all those who battle it today, and we continue our work to improve care and raise awareness about ovarian cancer.
When ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment is most effective and the chances for recovery are greatest. But ovarian cancer is difficult to detect early — there is no simple and reliable way to screen for this disease, symptoms are often not clear until later stages, and most women are diagnosed without being at high risk. That is why it is important for all women to pay attention to their bodies and know what is normal for them. Women who experience unexplained changes — including abdominal pain, pressure, and swelling — should talk with their health care provider. To learn more about the risk factors and symptoms of ovarian cancer, Americans can visit www.Cancer.gov.
Regular health checkups increase the chance of early detection, and the Affordable Care Act expands this critical care to millions of women. Insurance companies are now required to cover well-woman visits, which provide women an opportunity to talk with their health care provider, and insurers are prohibited from charging a copayment for this service.
For the thousands of women affected by ovarian cancer, the Affordable Care Act also prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage due to a pre-existing condition, such as cancer or a family history of cancer; prevents insurers from denying participation in an approved clinical trial for any life-threatening disease; and eliminates annual and lifetime dollar limits on coverage. And as we work to ease the burden of ovarian cancer for today’s patients, my Administration continues to invest in the critical research that will lead to earlier detection, improved care, and the medical breakthroughs of tomorrow.
Ovarian cancer and the hardship it brings have affected too many lives. This month, our Nation stands with everyone who has been touched by this disease, and we recognize all those committed to advancing the fight against this cancer through research, advocacy, and quality care. Together, let us renew our commitment to reducing the impact of ovarian cancer and to a future free from cancer in all its forms.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 2014 as National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I call upon citizens, government agencies, organizations, health care providers, and research institutions to raise ovarian cancer awareness and continue helping Americans live longer, healthier lives. I also urge women across our country to talk to their health care providers and learn more about this disease.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.
- Cancer Facts & Figures 2014. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2014 [PDF file].
- Presidential Proclamation — National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, 2013, Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, August 29, 2014.