Monday, September 1, 2014

Save the Hoo-Hahs

It’s September and that means it is Gynecological Cancer Awareness month.  This includes Cervical, Ovarian, Uterine and other gynecological cancers.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and risk increases with age.”  Most people are aware of Breast Cancer, the iconic pink ribbon campaign has done so much to raise the level of understanding about the need for early detection through mammograms and other diagnostic tools, but gynecological cancers have not had as much success in capturing the attention of the public to share the message. 

For some reason it has become socially acceptable to discuss breast health, but the mere mention of other ‘lady parts’ causes discomfort and awkward silences.  From Hollywood to the evening news, this veil of secrecy still exists, we know lots of movie stars who have survived breast cancer, the media is usually in full force at the annual breast cancer events, but bring up uterine, ovarian or even, god-forbid, vaginal cancer and the media run away in horror.   Why is there a double standard for cancer? 

Actress Fran Drescher is one of the only famous folks who came out publicly and said, “Yes, I had uterine cancer”.  She wrote a highly successful book, “Cancer Schamancer” in which she describes her struggle with odd symptoms that wouldn’t go away, she went to doctor after doctor until one correctly identified the cancer in her uterus and she got treatment.  In her unique and comical way, Fran Drescher became a champion for women to advocate for themselves and their gynecological health.  

Sadly, the outcome was not as good for famed Saturday Night Live actress Gilda Radnor, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  She also went to several doctors before a correct diagnosis.  After treatment with chemo and radiation, she later died when the cancer was found in other organs. Would her outcome have been different if doctors had diagnosed her sooner.  We know early detection is critical.  

Gynecological cancers are often referred to as the silent killers; their symptoms are often mistaken for other illnesses. 

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancer?

Uterine or Endometrial
  Bleeding in a women who has gone through menopause
  Irregular vaginal bleeding in a women before menopause

The initial symptoms of ovarian cancer are common complaints of women. This is why it may not be detected early. These symptoms include:
  Pressure or a feeling of fullness in the pelvis
  Abdominal bloating
  Changes in your normal bowel or bladder patterns

  Abnormal bleeding between periods
  Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  Vaginal discharge that has a foul smell, unusual color, or is more than usual.

The most common symptom of vulvar cancer is itching of the vulva. 
Other symptoms include:
  Burning, pain, or other discomfort
  A sore on the vulva
  Changes in skin color 

Here are some scary facts about gynecological cancers:
The American Cancer Society estimates that 91,730 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cancers of the female reproductive organs this year. Cancer of the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus, is the most common gynecological cancer. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth as a cause of cancer deaths among women and causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. It is estimated that as many as 28,080 women will die in 2013 from gynecological cancers.

One particular CDC program focuses on encouraging women to pay attention to their body and "Be Brave. Ask Questions." Through personal and moving radio, television and print PSA’s, the campaign tells women "Be brave. Ask questions. Chances are you don't have cancer, but find out for sure."

We need to be bold and ask questions, we need to lift the veil of secrecy around these cancers.  That’s why we need gynecological cancer awareness month – early detection means earlier treatment and better outcomes for all women.  So go ahead and put on your pink ribbon for breast cancer – but put on a teal or orange ribbon too, show your support for uterine, ovarian and other gynecological cancers. 

As this cool graphic says, lets not only save the tat-tas, lets save the hoo-hahs

I will be participating in the Valley of the Sun Ovarian Cancer walk later this month to help raise awareness and work towards a cure of this terrible disease, please join me, or join a walk in your area for ovarian or any of the other gynecological cancers - together we can make a difference.  I want a future where my daughters won't have to worry about gynecological cancers.  
click here to donate

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