Gynecologic oncologists raise awareness
Ovarian cancer symptoms are subtle, but not silent
September 22, 2014 | Jacksonville, FL
The teal bracelets Elizabeth Furdell and her book club members wear are reminders of her fight against ovarian cancer and to help spread awareness of the disease.
Though Furdell’s mom passed way from ovarian cancer at age 79, she didn’t think she had cancer when she started having problems last year.
“You think you might be putting on a few pounds. You don’t immediately think I have this terrible tumor,” said Furdell, a retired professor from the University of North Florida, who lives near Mandarin in Jacksonville. “There is no lump like there is with breast cancer.”
But a CT scan and CA-125 blood test last year confirmed Furdell, like her mom, had ovarian cancer. While people who have a family history of ovarian and/or breast cancer are more at risk, only 10 to 15 percent of cases are because of hereditary reasons. Ovarian cancer can impact women at any age though cancer rates are higher in women ages 55 to 64.
Some risk factors besides family history include having never given birth; starting menstruation at an early age; having a child after 30; experiencing menopause after 50; never using oral contraceptives; and having had endometriosis or cancers such as breast, uterine, cervical and colon. Often times, patients dismiss ovarian cancer symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, bloating, abdominal pain, cramping, nausea and change in bowel habits.
“Ovarian cancer is not silent. It’s is very subtle,” said Jenny M. Whitworth, MD, gynecologic oncologist with Southeast Gynecologic Oncology Associates, which is affiliated with Baptist Health. For Gynecologic Cancer Awareness month, she and fellow gynecologic oncologists, Stephen L. Buckley, MD and Paul W. Nowicki, MD, are raising awareness.
“If you are having new symptoms, see your doctor even if it’s vague. It doesn’t hurt to get evaluated. Don’t ignore your body,” Dr. Whitworth said.
Dr. Buckley, who is treating Furdell, said that unfortunately about 85 percent of the time ovarian cancer is not diagnosed until it is advanced and spread beyond the ovary.
“The biggest thing is self awareness,” Dr. Buckley said. “If you are having unexplained symptoms, see your gynecologist and push for a pelvic exam and potentially an ultrasound.”
Dr. Nowicki also said that ovarian cancer comes in a number of varieties and newly-diagnosed patients should find out what type they have. “Not all have the same prognosis and not all are treated the same way,” Dr. Nowicki said.
Furdell is glad she sought help with her symptoms. Dr. Buckley removed her reproductive organs, including both ovaries and the fallopian tubes, in addition to the uterus and omentum, which covers the intestines. She underwent chemotherapy and in December scans showed her cancer was gone. She continues on a maintenance medication.
“I feel really good. I’m researching and writing and living a pretty normal life,” said Furdell, who taught and writes about British history. “Dr. Buckley has a wonderful bedside manner. The first thing he said was, ‘We have a plan and we are going to deal with this cancer.’”
Buckley added, “Ovarian cancer is a difficult disease, but we are making strides and people are living longer and it’s become more of a chronic disease.”
Stephanie Cook, 35, of Kings Bay, Ga., was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February after a trip to the emergency room. While it is not the norm to be diagnosed so young, she is an example of how the disease can impact anyone. Dr. Whitworth performed a hysterectomy and Cook is finishing up chemotherapy since the cancer spread to the outside of her bladder.
“Thank goodness she is as good as she is,” Cook said about Dr. Whitworth. “She is very vigilant. I cried when I found out and she hugged me and told me it was going to be OK.”
Cook, who provides day care in her home and raises her three children and her boyfriend’s three children, said strength in God and support of family and friends keep her positive.
“I had a few moments where I had a pity party and said ‘Why me,’ but then you let go and say, ‘I’m going to get through it,’” Cook said. “If you stay positive, it makes such a huge difference.”
For more information visit Southeast Gynecologic Oncology Associates