Health Team

Awareness, early detection best cure for ovarian cancer

Posted September 26, 2008 3:29 p.m. EDT
Updated September 26, 2008 6:24 p.m. EDT

— Awareness is the best hope for a cure for ovarian cancer, the fourth-highest cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States.

There is no effective screening method for the cancer, and once it is detected, the disease is usually far advanced.

Joan Stout Knight said she ignored early warning signs of ovarian cancer – including bloating – that appeared months before her wedding two years ago.

"I totally wrote it off, just like I did everything else," Knight said. "I thought it would look odd. I had a wedding coming up. I didn't want to have anything wrong with me."

However, a month after the wedding, Knight was diagnosed with stage 3C, advanced ovarian cancer.

Knight underwent surgery to remove her ovaries. For months afterward, chemotherapy slowed down her work schedule – and kept her from taking her border collies to sheep-herding competitions.

Although all tests show that Knight has become cancer free, that is not a great comfort with this disease, said Dr. Andrew Berchuck, a gynecological oncologist with Duke University Hospital.

"Most of those women are destined to have a recurrence, because it's a microscopic disease," Berchuck said.

Researchers are focusing on better ways to detect, prevent and treat ovarian cancer, Berchuck said.

However, women's best hope in beating ovarian cancer remains recognizing its symptoms – abdominal bloating, fullness and frequent urination. Women with those symptoms should ask their doctor about getting a pelvic exam, a CA125 blood test and transvaginal ultrasound.

"I still think that it's good medical care for a physician to evaluate those and consider the possibility that someone might have ovarian cancer," Berchuck said.

Early detection means a better chance for a cure, and Knight as joined in efforts to raise awareness about ovarian cancer. She drives a teal car – the color for Ovarian Cancer awareness – and participates in fundraisers.

Knight said she works to ensure that other women will not have to live her daily fear of cancer's return.

The sixth annual Gail Parkins Ovarian Cancer Awareness Walk will take place this Saturday, Sept. 27. It begins at 10:30 a.m. at Sanderson High School in Raleigh.