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What every woman needs to know about ovarian cancer: Jeanne's story

  • After surviving ovarian cancer, Jeanne Karnowski, has some advice for women. It has to do with trusting your instincts.

    "If you feel abdominal pain that's unusual or severe, you need to explain that to your doctor," she says.

    Before her diagnosis in 2003, Karnowski asked her gynecologist to investigate whether her symptoms could be cancer. That led to an early diagnosis, something that is far too uncommon in ovarian cancer.

    The advice is echoed by Cheryl Bailey, MD, the gynecologic oncologist who treated Karnowski at Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®.

    "Ovarian cancer is rare, but it is almost always diagnosed in advanced stages because the symptoms are so vague," Bailey says.

    Ovarian tumors can be hard to find during a routine examination, so ruling out ovarian cancer requires specialized tests. But research has helped women focus on what they need to know.

    Early signs of ovarian cancer

    Women diagnosed with ovarian cancer often have these symptoms:

    • pelvic or abdominal pain
    • abdominal bloating
    • urinary urgency
    • urinary frequency
    • trouble eating or feeling full quickly

    Almost everyone occasionally has one or more of these symptoms. What is important is if any of the symptoms you have are new, persistent and frequent - noticeably different than how you usually feel. That is what tipped off Karnowski. She felt extreme pain with menstruation.

    "The pain became more frequent until eventually it was occurring every day," she says.

    When Karnowski's symptoms worsened, she asked her doctor about cancer.

    "I was lucky that the pain was so severe that it made me more persistent in getting medical treatment," Karnowski says.

    A pelvic ultrasound showed a large ovarian cyst. Karnowski also had elevated levels of CA125, a blood protein sometimes associated with ovarian cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy followed.

    Karnowski says she cannot say enough good things about the care she received. "They have a standard of care that is really extraordinary, from the doctors and nurses to the lab techs and receptionists."

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  • Source: Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Healthy Communities Magazine, spring 2009
    Reviewed by: Timothy Sielaff, MD, PhD, FACS, president, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute®
    First published: 08/17/2009
    Last reviewed: 08/17/2009

  • Jeanne works in Minneapolis