During the segment I asked Dr. Carol Brown, an oncologist and surgeon at
Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York, why there`s no
diagnostic test for ovarian cancer, when there are mammograms for breast cancer, PSA`s for prostate cancer, colonoscopies for colon cancer.
The ovaries are deep inside the body, she told me. So doctors rely on X-rays
and blood tests to look for substances that ovarian cancers may be shedding
into the blood. (They also rely on women recognizing the symptoms -- feeling
bloated, feeling full quickly, abdominal pain, an urgent need to urinate.)
Ovarian cancer is 90% curable if it`s detected early, and deadly if it`s not
caught until late in the game.
So why isn't there a test? There is one being developed but it'll be well into the future before it's available.
Part of the answer also lies in statistics, and bear with me for a minute as I throw out these numbers:
This year, according to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 22,430
women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
That`s a small number -- compared with breast cancer (180,000), prostate
cancer (219,000), and colon cancer (112,000).
Needless to say, research dollars are apportioned accordingly, $95 million
for ovarian cancer, versus almost $585 million for breast cancer, $244
million for colon cancer, $293 million for prostate cancer.
Ovarian cancer is a lot like pancreatic cancer in that way, which my older
sister Emily died of. She died five years ago after a two-and-a-half-year
struggle. This year 37,000 people will be diagnosed with it, and $95 million will be allocated to funding.
Of course it`s understandable that more research dollars would go into a
disease that affects more people. But it just seems so unfair that if you
are diagnosed with a cancer that affects a relatively small number of
people, you don`t have all the researchers working on tests and cures and
ways to survive. The breast and colon cancer survivors` groups are huge
advocates for research. Unfortunately because very few people survive
pancreatic cancer (or ovarian cancer, diagnosed at a late stage), there just
aren`t those survivor advocacy groups.
Mammograms and colonoscopies and PSA tests have saved countless lives. If
the survivors` groups for ovarian and pancreatic cancers are too small,
isn't it time we all became advocates?