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Most women know little about often deadly ovarian cancer: survey

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TORONTO (CP) - Most Canadian women have no idea how to recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer, a disease that kills six out of every 10 of its victims, a survey suggests.

In fact, 96 per cent of women surveyed could not identify the most common symptoms, says the National Ovarian Cancer Association, which commissioned the Decima poll released Wednesday.

"This study confirms what we've always believed," Elisabeth Ross, executive director of the association, said in a news release. "Canadian women have little information about ovarian cancer and the information they do have often is incorrect."

But with no screening test for the disease, recognizing symptoms is the only way women and their doctors can twig to the possibility of ovarian cancer, which has a 90 per cent cure rate if detected early.

Common symptoms include: abdominal pain, swelling of the abdomen or bloating, changes in urinary frequency, weight loss or gain, and nausea.

"It is absolutely crucial for women to be aware of these symptoms, in part because the disease is so lethal," said Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden, a specialist in ovarian cancer at the University of Ottawa.

"When women are diagnosed in the early stages, more than 90 per cent can be treated effectively," Vanderhyden said. "Sadly, the majority of women are diagnosed later in the progression of the disease when the survival rate drops to 20 per cent."

This year, more than 2,400 Canadian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer; an estimated 1,500 will die of the disease.

At highest risk for ovarian cancer are women who:

-Have a family history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer.

-Have never had children.

-Are over age 50.

-Have never used oral contraceptives.

-Are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

The survey suggests Canadian women overall know little about this most fatal of gynecological cancers.

The survey, released as part of National Ovarian Cancer Month, found that 12 per cent reported never having heard of ovarian cancer; one in three mistakenly believed a Pap test screens for ovarian cancer (it tests for pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions of the genital tract, which includes the vagina, cervix and endometrium); and that women at higher risk for ovarian cancer due to age are significantly less likely to be aware of ovarian cancer than younger women.

The National Ovarian Cancer Association (NOCA) recommends that women see their doctors if they experience one or more of the symptoms and they last longer than three weeks. Often women ignore symptoms, as they are subtle and can be mistaken for other conditions.

The survey conducted earlier this year included 1,373 women across Canada; its results are considered accurate plus-or-minus 2.6 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

To increase awareness of the disease and promote Ovarian Cancer Month, the association is also hosting the NOCA Walk of Hope across the country on Sunday. Nine walks are set to take place in St. John's, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Comox Valley, B.C.


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NOCA Walk of Hope:

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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