Miss USA. Barack Obama. NASCAR Driver Martin Truex Jr.’s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex. Oscar-winner Kathy Bates. Pierce Brosnan. The wife of the man who set my parents up on a blind date 50 years ago. Representative Sean Duffy (R-Wis.). Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn).
The list of those diagnosed with – and otherwise touched by – ovarian cancer goes on and on. An estimated 22,000 women each year are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and approximately 14,300 will die from the disease. The five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer has barely improved and the cure rate has not budged since President Nixon declared the war on cancer in 1971.
Despite the number of women diagnosed and the celebrity lives and families affected, awareness of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer remains tragically low and funding for research, treatment, prevention, risk reduction, and awareness is below the level necessary to make the progress essential in this deadly disease. As I wrote recently about cancer – it is a disease that does not discriminate – it does not respect celebrity status or political affiliation – it can strike any woman, at any time.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and today Representatives Duffy and DeLauro will be announcing a new bipartisan effort to boost awareness of ovarian cancer. The disease has impacted both policymakers. The Congresswoman is a 29-year survivor of ovarian cancer, and the Congressman lost a dear friend to ovarian cancer and his sister is a survivor.
Unified by their passion to do more about ovarian cancer, Representatives Duffy and DeLauro are teaming up to launch the Congressional Ovarian Cancer Caucus. The Caucus will work to bring much needed attention to – and support for funding of – ovarian cancer and the importance of improving treatments and diagnosis. The caucus will also seek to boost awareness of the signs and symptoms of this all too often deadly disease. Of the new effort, Representative Duffy says, “This Caucus gives us an opportunity to give this cause a unified voice in Congress. We will elevate the conversation and be a voice for the patients, families and caregivers who have experienced far too much heartbreak because of this disease.”
While currently there are no screening tests to catch ovarian cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage (as there are for cervical and breast cancers), there are some signs and symptoms that have been found to be associated with the disease. Unfortunately those signs and symptoms – bloating, fatigue, frequency of urination, feeling full quickly after eating, etc. – are quite common and often are associated with many other health issues. Because the signs and symptoms are nondescript, health care providers and women often do not identify ovarian cancer as the cause until the disease has progressed.
This is why awareness – among both women and health care providers – of the signs and symptoms is essential to helping recognize the disease as early as possible to maximize survival and quality of life. Calaneet Balas, CEO of the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, says, “Until there is an early detection test, symptom awareness and understanding risk are our best defense. We must spread the word about ovarian cancer to women, the men who love them, health care providers, the media-everyone! We encourage all women to learn about the symptoms and risk of ovarian cancer to empower themselves to seek treatment if they think they might have the disease.”
Ovarian cancer claims too many lives each year, so identifying the cause – and ways to prevent it – along with the development of effective early detection tests would be game-changers for the nation’s women. Until those breakthroughs, we need as many women and those who love them, health professionals, and the public to be aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease coupled with an infusion of investment in federal efforts to advance the science and research. As Representative DeLauro reminds us, “As a survivor of ovarian cancer, whose life was saved by early detection, I know how important it is to raise awareness about this terrible disease. I was one of the lucky ones, but no one should have to rely on luck to survive.”
The new bipartisan initiative by Representatives Duffy and DeLauro certainly is a much-needed step in the right direction. And, educating yourself about the disease is the next step – take it today: to learn more visit ovariancancer.org.
Ilisa Halpern Paul is President of the District Policy Group, a boutique health policy and government relations consulting practice within Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP. The views expressed are the author’s own.