If you read our blogs, then you know from our post about International Women’s Day that my family has recently been affected through my grandmother’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer. We have all been devastated by this news, and it’s been particularly hard for me being in a different time zone and so far away from my family in California. However, we are all taking it day by day and just trying to be as supportive as possible for my grandma, Rosemary. She is such a warrior and a fighter that it is truly inspiring to see her strength in full force. Anybody who knows me well knows that my grandmother is one of the most important people in my life, which only makes it even more difficult for me to not be able to be there for her right now. I have had to channel my support in other ways like persistent phone calls, staying up to date with my family on her progress (thank you to everybody who puts up with my constant check-in texts), and TONS of research. My grandmother has always taken very good care of her health and had regular doctors appointments, even with her gynecologist, and nobody ever caught that something was wrong. This was what I found to be the most troubling about her diagnosis, and what really spurred my research to hopefully be able to better understand what she had been going through, what was currently happening, and what to expect in the future. I thought I would share some of this info with all of you, because it’s impossible to be too informed and it has brought me some peace being armed with the information.
What is ovarian cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, reproductive glands found only in women, that produce eggs for reproduction. While the ovaries play a huge role in the development of babies, the ovaries are also the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. The ovaries are made up of 3 main kinds of cells. Each type of cell can develop into a different type of tumor. Epithelial tumors start from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. Most ovarian tumors are epithelial cell tumors. Most of these tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and never spread beyond the ovary. Benign tumors can be treated by removing either the ovary or the part of the ovary that contains the tumor. Malignant (cancerous) or low malignant potential ovarian tumors can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and can be fatal.
Can ovarian cancer be found early? Through regular women’s health exams, pelvic exams can be useful because it can find some reproductive system cancers at an early stage, but most early ovarian tumors are difficult or impossible for even the most skilled examiner to feel. Women should discuss the need for these exams with their doctor. The Pap test is effective in early detection of cervical cancer, but it isn’t a test for ovarian cancer. Rarely, ovarian cancers are found through Pap tests, but usually they are at an advanced stage.
What kind of symptoms are indicative of ovarian cancer? Early cancers of the ovaries often cause no symptoms. When ovarian cancer causes symptoms, they tend to be symptoms that are more commonly caused by other things. According to the American Cancer Society, these symptoms include abdominal swelling or bloating pelvic pressure or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and/or urinary symptoms. What is most important is that they are a change from how a woman usually feels, so ladies listen to your body!
The American Cancer Society’s website also lists several screening tests that you can ask your healthcare professional to run if you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms or simply want to get screened for peace of mind. I’m a big believe that knowledge is power, so I hope that this helps anybody else who might be affected by cancer. I love my grandmother and all of the other beautiful, wise, strong, compassionate, and graceful women in my life and just want them to all live their best, healthiest lives. We all deserve that!