Photo credit: People
Imagine being 17 years old and diagnosed with Ovarian cancer – it happens, and it happened to Caly Bevier. Caly, a competitive cheerleader and high school student, noticed a lump growing in her stomach for upwards of a year, but wasn’t concerned about it. At the time, the lump didn’t cause any pain or noticeable problems, so she ignored it. It wasn’t until she was wearing a bathing suit in front of her family that her parents noticed the protruding lump and quickly took her to the doctor. Initially, the doctor thought she was pregnant, but that wasn’t the case at all.
Unfortunately, with ovarian cancer, stories like this are common. More often than not, ovarian cancer tends to hide under the radar for the first few stages, allowing it to spread. Once the later stages set in, the cancer spreads to the pelvis and the belly, where it, begins to cause problems. Later stage cancers are difficult to treat, especially in the case of ovarian cancer, because the cancer has metastasized to other areas of the body. Most symptoms of ovarian cancer mimic other conditions like urinary tract infections, making it hard to decipher what is going on. Women will often attempt to self-treat using at home treatments for UTIs, further delaying treatment.
For Caly, she had no symptoms other than a lump in her stomach. It was easy for her to overlook the lump because she didn’t feel any different. There are not many effective methods to diagnose ovarian cancer early, which is why doctors stress the importance of paying attention to your body. If any symptoms last longer than two weeks, doctors recommend coming in to be examined.
With every rule, there is an exception. You shouldn’t assume that cancer will manifest the same way in your body as it did in others. Unusual symptoms have been reported with ovarian cancer, and can be linked to an even rarer form of the cancer, granulosa cell tumors. Due to the complexity of the female reproductive system, these symptoms may be different depending on the age of the woman.
Postmenopausal women will experience ovarian cancer symptoms such as abnormal uterine bleeding, breast tenderness, vaginal secretions, endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the uterus that causes bleeding), hair growth, and other male pattern traits due to higher levels of testosterone. Some of these symptoms are expected in postmenopausal women naturally, but when they appear suddenly or gradually get worse, they need to be addressed.
Premenopausal women don’t have symptoms as noticeable or severe, which is why even these unusual symptoms go untreated until the later stages. Premenopausal women will experience increased abdominal girth, enlarging abdominal mass, and period irregularities. Period irregularities are not uncommon naturally in premenopausal women, which is something to note when monitoring your symptoms. If your period has always been regular, then suddenly becomes irregular, then it’s time to see a doctor.
Prepubescent girls will experience changes that mimic male pattern traits, like hair growth and acne, due to hormonal changes from impaired ovaries. Like the previous women, these symptoms normally don’t appear until the cancer is in its later stages.
Can it show up on tests?
Well, yes and no. There are no preventive tests that would screen you for ovarian cancer. Pap smears only test for cervical cancer and mammograms about gear towards the breasts. The test for the CA 125 protein in the blood is sometimes recommended, but high levels of that protein could mean many other things aside from ovarian cancer. Although no preventive or screening tests exist, there are factors that either substantially reduce or increase your risk of developing ovarian cancer.
As women age, they become more susceptible to diseases, illnesses, and cancer. Ovarian cancer is no exception. Cancer is most common in women between the ages of 55 and 64, with the median age being 63. If you have ever been diagnosed with endometriosis or any other types of cancer, you are also at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Your reproductive health has a major impact on your susceptibility, and because ovarian cancer is a cancer of a portion of the reproductive system, the impact is even greater. Women who have less menstrual cycles have a lesser risk. This means that woman who:
- Have never taken an oral contraceptive (birth control)
- Started menstruating at an early age (before 12 years old)
- Doesn’t have any biological children
- Her biological children were conceived after age 30
- Onset of menopause was after age 50
- Are infertile
...are all at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer because they’ve had more menstrual cycles. This study is based on scientific studies conducted by the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance. Research on the correlation between menstrual cycles and heightened risk of ovarian cancer isn’t definitive; however, it makes enough impact for the study to be released and heeded as a precautionary measure.
Women who are obese and over the age of 50 and have not taken any oral contraceptives can have up to an 80% increase of developing ovarian cancer. Women who maintained a healthy weight without taking oral contraceptives were also at a heightened risk of ovarian cancer, but the risk was lower than the obese percentage.
How Caly’s story can help change the face of treatment
Only until recently, ovarian cancer was considered a silent killer. Caly’s story is one that tends to echo this theory that ovarian cancer has symptoms; they just don’t always manifest as symptoms that one associates with cancer. If you pay attention to your body and the changes it goes through, you are more likely to catch ovarian cancer in its early stages.
In the last six years, the average survival rate after five years is 46.2%, but this varies greatly for each woman diagnosed. Take into account each woman’s cancer stage, age at the time of diagnosis, medical history, and other factors; this will give you a better understanding of the percentages. Using some statistics from the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance, in 2016, 22,280 new cases of ovarian cancer were diagnosed, and 14,240 deaths from ovarian cancer were reported.
Ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest sex-specific cancers in today’s world, continues to victimize women oblivious to its presence. As women, it’s imperative that health is continually monitored and any changes reported to your doctor. Although symptoms that appear may be nonspecific, it is critical that you consult your doctor if one of them appears unexpectedly.
As for Caly, she is currently working on pursuing her dreams as a musician. She is signed with a record label, promotes her work, and works with hit stars in her studio. She is a medical anomaly compared to the majority of stage 3 ovarian cancer patients. Keep in mind the importance of prevention and health. Although you can’t change your family and personal history, you can take the proper precautions to eat healthy, get regular checkups, and maintain a healthy weight; you can bend the odds a bit in your favor. Most of all, listen to your body.
Let Caly Bevier’s story serve as a message that beating ovarian cancer is possible.