DEAR ABBY: Because your column reaches millions of women every day, I am writing to you about a deadly disease that gets little attention, and as a one-year survivor, I have found women know little about. It is the disease that killed comedienne Gilda Radner, Cassandra Harris (actor Pierce Brosnan's wife), actresses Carolyn Jones, Joan Hackett, Sandy Dennis, Jessica Tandy, singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, and the mother of Olympic skater Oksana Baiul (at age 36) -- ovarian cancer.
The deadliest of all gynecological cancers, an estimated 26,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, and 13,000 die from it annually. It is also called the "silent killer" because the symptoms are vague, often ignored or minimized by both patient and physician, and thus usually not diagnosed until it is in an advanced stage. However, there are symptoms and risk factors to know about, and early detection gives the best chance for survival.
Ovarian cancer usually strikes women between the ages of 40 and 70, although I know many women in their 30s who have it. It is more prevalent in women who have had no pregnancies, have taken fertility drugs, had an early menopause, eaten a high-fat diet or frequently used talcum powder in the genital area. It is also more common in those with a history of breast cancer or ovarian problems, or a family history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer. There are three women in my Ovarian Cancer Support Group at SHARE in New York City who had breast cancer and complained of ovarian cancer symptoms and were not diagnosed until an advanced state.
Symptoms that MAY indicate ovarian cancer are: abdominal bloating, swelling or pain, urinary frequency or urgency, constipation, gastrointestinal discomfort such as gas, nausea or indigestion, menstrual abnormalities, back and leg pain and fatigue -- symptoms that women and their physicians often downplay or attribute to other causes. Many complain of a feeling of "fullness."
Since these are symptoms that women may experience from time to time, they are often told by their doctors that it's "nothing." These symptoms may be due to other causes, but if they are present for more than a few weeks, INSIST that your doctor rule out this dread disease by performing a pelvic examination, a pelvic sonogram, a CA-125 blood test, which is a marker for ovarian cancer, and if necessary, a CAT scan. Being persistent can save your life!
Abby, if you will print my letter, and if your readers will clip this column to share with their mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and co-workers, you could save many lives. Please help me give this "silent killer" a voice. -- MARSHA NEWMAN, LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y.
DEAR MARSHA: I'm sure many women will be grateful to you for speaking out about this killer. It is important that all women know the warning signs of cancer and notify their doctors if any unusual symptoms persist for more than a week or two. That precaution can be a lifesaver.