When I talk about my BRCA genetic mutation, I'm usually referencing the increased risk for breast cancer. While this is the biggest increased risk for BRCA carriers, it's not the only one. This month is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. And because of this, I want to raise awareness about this "silent killer," the risk that BRCA carriers have and what you can do to be proactive with your ovarian health. Ovarian cancer is commonly referred to as a "silent killer" because 60% of diagnosed patients are already in stage 3 at the time of diagnosis. It's different than other cancers, like breast cancer, because there isn't yet a screening process to detect the disease. A common misconception is that your annual appointment with your OBGYN and your annual Pap test is "screening." Unfortunately, there is no effective screening (seems crazy, I know), and although going to your annual appointment is still a smart action plan, there's more to it when it comes to being proactive and self-aware.
I'm no doctor but I'm going to make a bold, and what I believe to be an accurate statement: the key to surviving ovarian cancer is early detection. And in most cases, this is by self-identifying and not ignoring the symptoms. Let's start with what those symptoms are most commonly shown through, for any woman, not just those with a BRCA mutation:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Feeling the need to urinate urgently or frequently
- Upset stomach or heartburn
- Back pain
- Menstrual changes
Now, I know I have a lot of hypochondriac friends out there reading this, so I'm not wanting to freak anyone out by giving out a list of symptoms that can be common in some women (who don't necessarily have anything wrong with them). I'll let WebMD be the one to freak you all out. But, I do think it is extremely important to know these symptoms and identify them in yourself if they last longer than two or three weeks. Because if so, it is recommended you see your medical professional. It could be nothing, but it could be what saves your life.
Now specifically for chicks with a BRCA inherited mutation like myself, some important things to note: Unfortunately, the BRCA mutation can increase your risk for ovarian cancer anywhere from 15 to 40 percent. But, as I will say time and time again, having the knowledge of your increased risk can give you the power of being proactive, in whichever way you choose. And even if we still do not have a way to screen for this disease, there ARE some identified ways that appear to reduce your risk of developing ovarian cancer. They are:
- Oral contraception (especially in those that have used for 5 or more years)
- Breast feeding and pregnancy
- Hysterectomy (this is not for everyone, but if you have a known increased risk, it can be a preventative surgical way to greatly reduce risk)
- Prophylactic oophorectomy (also not for everyone, but for high-risk women, the removal of the ovaries eliminates the risk of ovarian cancer)
For me, I have a very aggressive and proactive GYN. His plan, that started even before I was engaged, was that I was to start popping out babies as soon as possible, to a) decrease my risk, and b) allow me to seriously consider surgical options like a prophylactic oophorectomy. It's something I know I'll do when the time is right, but again, that's a very personal decision, that comes with a lot of changes in my body that I'll have to deal with (menopause, for one, in my thirties does not sound appealing, but hey, I survived the mastectomy in my twenties). It'll be a family-oriented decision, because believe it or not, in just 8 months, I'll be Molly McKnight, and hopefully down the road I'll be mother Molly McKnight with cute little Irish red head kids, so my decision will take action when it's the right time for my family. The point is, I'm able to make such decisions because I have the knowledge to be proactive if I choose to do so.
I'll get off my proactive soapbox and reiterate just one more thing. This disease is the deadliest gynecologic disease that is out there. All women are at risk, and it can attack at any age. So please, be aware and conscious of your body. It can save your life.
Please note: I am 100% not a medical professional, so if you want specific medical advice or expertise, go see your doctor. But if you want friendly conversation, or have questions you're not ready to go your doctor with yet, I'm your girl, and will help in whatever way I can.
Resources: http://www.ovarian.org/ http://www.brightpink.org/