- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 27, 2000

''No woman," Mary Jackson Scroggins proclaimed the other day, "should be as ignorant as I was. The truth is if you are a woman you are at risk." And you know what? She's absolutely correct. A woman of any age or race, any woman, is at risk of ovarian cancer.

Like most cancers, ovarian cancer does not discriminate, as Ms. Scroggins and many other women erroneously believe. But the signs are so incredibly subtle and the symptoms so common to other medical conditions, only 24 percent of ovarian cancers are found before tumor growth has spread into tissues and organs beyond the ovaries. Doctors, advocates say, too readily shrug the symptoms off as stress, menopause-related, even acute indigestion.

The usual suspects associated with ovarian cancer include bloating or discomfort in the abdominal area, gastrointestinal symptoms including gas, indigestion or nausea and back pain and unusual fatigue. Changes in bowel or bladder habits are common as well.

The late actress Gilda Radner had those symptoms for more than a year before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The mother of D.C. Council member David Catania had not had a bowel movement in a week and had other symptoms. She was in so much pain and discomfort from an undetected 14-pound tumor, she couldn't walk. She died 10 years ago. Ms. Scroggins' symptoms were ignored, too. What's more, because she is black, she was told not to worry, because "you don't get the disease." Patients aren't the only folks ignorant about ovarian cancer.

• A Pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer.

• Ovarian cancer is the fifth-leading cause of cancer deaths for U.S. women.

• Ovarian cancer affects about 25,000 women in the United States each year.

• About 14,000 women die of the disease annually.

• If ovarian cancer is detected at an early stage, five-year survival rates approach 90 percent. If diagnosed in advanced stages the chance of survival drops to 25 percent.

• Among black women, 46 percent survive five years or more.

• Pelvic exams and ultrasounds of the ovaries aid in diagnosing the disease.

• There are no definitive screening tools.

Those facts are courtesy of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance and the Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Greater Washington, which are conducting a pilot awareness project in the nation's capital. Their mission is very simple: educate, educate and educate. "Our survival, my survival, should not hang on a whim," Ms. Scroggins said. Exactly right.

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