September was recognized as “Reproductive Cancer Awareness Month” by many organizations, including the American Cancer Society (http://www.cancer.org/myacs…), in an effort to educate and inform the public.
Ovarian and prostate cancer, two of the leading cancers in women and men respectively, are a focus for this month, making it a good reminder for patients to see their gynecologist and urologist for an annual check-up.
Gynecologic cancer is cancer of the female reproductive system, which includes cervical cancer, endometrial/uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer and peritoneal cancer. In the last two decades, considerable gains have been made in the detection and treatment of these cancers. When detected in the early stages, most gynecologic cancers have an excellent cure rate. When regular check-ups are not part of an annual recourse, these cancers can appear as an unexpected diagnosis.
Ovarian cancer is often called the “whisper” disease as it has few early symptoms and is most often detected in an advanced stage, when it has become less treatable and more widespread. As a result, the mortality rate from ovarian cancer exceeds that for all other gynecologic cancers combined and is the fourth most frequent cause of death in women in the United States.
Approximately seventy percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer have advanced stages of the disease and about one in seventy women in the United States will develop ovarian cancer. It can occur at any age, even in childhood, but is most common after menopause.
The disease accounts for about 20,000 new cases and 12,500 deaths in the United States annually. Some of the risk factors for developing ovarian cancer include previous diagnosis of breast cancer, family history of ovarian cancer, early menses, late menopause, and no children. Many women are under the false impression that the Pap Smear test detects ovarian cancer,. In fact, there is no current reliable diagnostic test for the cancer. Women must be aware of what their bodies might be telling them, schedule yearly visits with their physiciansand understand their family history.
The Ovarian Cancer Research Fund released a news article titled “Promising New Approach for Early Detection of Ovarian Cancer”. It states that researchers at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston have published new findings that show evaluating the change of CA-125, or “Cancer Antigen 125” – a protein that may be found in high amounts in the blood of patients with ovarian cancer, over time shows promise as a screening tool for early-stage ovarian cancer. Although encouraging, these recent findings are not going to change clinical practice immediately as more data is necessary before doctors use this method as a screening test.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among men. When detected early, it results in high survival rates. The five-year survival rate is close to one-hundred percent. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime and one out of thirty-four will die of the disease. The American Cancer Society states on their website that African-American men are disproportionately affected by prostate cancer, having higher rates of diagnosis and death than men of all other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. Almost one-third of prostate cancer cases are found in men during middle age.
The American Cancer Society urges that men know the facts on prostate cancer and understand their risks. They recommend men receive information from their health care provider about prostate cancer including the uncertainties, risks, and potential benefits associated with screening. Men at average risk should start talking to their doctors beginning at age 50. Men at higher risk should talk to their doctor about prostate testing earlier, including African Americans age 45 and older, and men with a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer should be screened at age 40.
The Reproductive Cancer Awareness Month affects both men and women. It is a great reminder to take care of ourselves and to take precaution when it comes to our health.