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Shedding Light on Ovarian Cancer: An Interview with Calaneet Balas

By HERWriter
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Calaneet Balas

Sponsored by: MyOCJourney

Out of all cancers affecting women in the United States, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death, according to U.S. National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

In 2015, more than 21,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and more than 14,000 women’s lives will be taken by the disease in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society.

Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of all gynecologic cancers, the National Cancer Institute said. The rate is so low as many ovarian cancer cases are not caught until later stages and some women may associate their symptoms with menopause or their menstrual cycle instead.

But that is something the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA), as well as other ovarian cancer groups are working hard to change by shedding light on a widespread and often silent epidemic.

May 8, 2015, will be the third annual World Ovarian Cancer Day. The first day was observed in 2013, by an international group of representatives from patient organizations working in ovarian cancer. The organization is dedicated to creating and raising awareness about ovarian cancer to ensure all women know about the disease.

Calaneet Balas, CEO of OCNA, strongly believes in supporting those women affected by this devastating disease. Balas believes that cancer still carries a big stigma in many countries around the world, especially when it comes to women. Due to limited treatment options and low survival rates, many women often feel loneliness and abandonment along with their cancer diagnosis rather than receiving the support they really need at this time from family and friends. If ovarian cancer is found and treated before the cancer spreads outside of the ovaries, the five-year survival rate is 92 percent, but only 15 percent of all ovarian cancer cases are found at this early stage, the American Cancer Society said.

"In some countries they talk about cancer, but they don't talk about women's cancer, and gynecologic cancer is still taboo across the board. We certainly don't talk about it here in the United States," Balas said.

By coming together since the first meeting, the World Ovarian Cancer Day group "has built and will continue to build a sense of solidarity in the fight against the disease," Balas said. The group has been addressing gaps in understanding and managing the disease, building awareness and increasing funds for research.

World Ovarian Cancer Day has helped both women and communities come together to educate each other and raise awareness in the fight against ovarian cancer. Working together in unison helps offer support for all who are affected by this devastating disease, including patients and caregivers.

In their attempt to increase awareness, the OCNA highlights five key facts that women need to know about ovarian cancer:

1) All women are at risk.

Although some women may have higher risks than others, an ovarian cancer diagnosis can happen to any woman.

2) Early warning sign awareness of the disease could save lives.

Knowing the warning signs of ovarian cancer helps women know what symptoms to look out for and can help catch ovarian cancer cases before they reach more advanced stages.

According to the American Cancer Society, the most common signs of ovarian cancer include:

• Abdomen or pelvis pain

• Bloating

• Need to urinate with more frequency or urgency

• Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

3) Early diagnosis greatly improves a woman's chance of survival.

When ovarian cancer is diagnosed at an earlier stage, up to 92 percent of women with the disease have a survival rate of five years or more, the American Cancer Society said.

4) The disease is more often diagnosed at a late stage.

As many ovarian cancer symptoms and signs are often similar to those of menopause and menstrual cycle, some women push back scheduling an appointment with their doctors. By the time they do schedule an appointment out of concern, the ovarian cancer is at a later, more advanced stage.

5) Believing that the Pap test will detect ovarian cancer is a mistake.

Many believe that a Pap test can help identify ovarian cancer, but the real purpose of this test is to check for precancerous cells located in the cervix.

Help spread awareness on World Ovarian Cancer Day, as well as all year long, by sharing these facts with five women you know, and encouraging them to “Connect 5.” You can also spread the word through social media by using the hashtag #Connect5.

On top of spreading the news about these five facts, Balas and the OCNA also stress the importance of knowing the symptoms of ovarian cancer.

"There is this great misconception that a Pap smear detects for ovarian cancer and it doesn't," Balas said. "There is no early test, there is no mammogram, there's no Pap smear. That's why knowing the symptoms and the risks are really critical."

In addition to the symptoms listed above, there are also genetic risks if you have a history of ovarian or breast cancer in your family. A genetic test is available to determine changes in gene structure, determining your susceptibility to these cancers. Abnormalities associated with ovarian cancer may be found in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.

If you think you have symptoms associated with ovarian cancer, contact your doctor. While there is no screening exam for ovarian cancer, your doctors can prescribe various tests including pelvic ultrasounds, pelvic exams, and the CA-125 blood test to reach a diagnosis.

Balas said this disease is "a passionate one," and these women "experience all sorts of things. They could be facing infertility and no children, [in addition to facing] a very severe cancer. It's a life they really haven't planned."

But a sense of unity is evident, despite the hardships these women face. "The most impressive thing is how they bond together to help each other through the journey," Balas said.

The natural bond all women have with each other is a unique one. They hold a deep and sympathizing understanding of one another, confide in each other and empathize with one other and their personal struggles. By coming together, women have the power to make a great difference in the fight against ovarian cancer and be one voice for all women.

This World Ovarian Cancer Day, celebrate that unbreakable bond between women by using it to raise awareness for ovarian cancer. Continue the fight against the disease on social media by using the hashtag #unbreakablebond.

For more information on ovarian cancer, visit MyOCJourney.com.


Phone interview with Calaneet Balas CEO of OCNA on April 22, 2015.

Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. Retrieved April 22, 2015.

Ovarian Cancer Key Statistics. American Cancer Society. Retrieved April 22 2015. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer/detailedguide/ovarian-cancer-key-statistics

Ovarian, Fallopian Tube, and Primary Peritoneal Cancer Screening (PDQ®). National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Retrieved April 24 2015. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/screening/ovarian/HealthProfessional/page2

What are the risk factors for ovarian cancer? American Cancer Society. Retrieved April 22, 2015. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer/detailedguide/ovarian-cancer-risk-factors

Survival rates for ovarian cancer, by stage. American Cancer Society. Retrieved April 22, 2015. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/ovariancancer/detailedguide/ovarian-cancer-survival-rates

Reviewed April 23, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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