HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and while doctors have learned much about the disease in recent years, more than 21,000 women in the U.S. will receive a new diagnosis this year.
Friday, advocacy group Ovarcome will host its 9th annual Ovarcoming Cancer Conference, where participants can learn about the latest advances in ovarian cancer research.
Experts tell ABC13 in spite of breakthroughs in cancer research, the majority of cases are still caught in the late stages.
"When we go to our well woman visits, we get tested for cervical cancer via a pap smear or we get mammograms for our breast cancer diagnosis, but there is no reliable screening available for ovarian cancer," said Runsi Sen, Ovarcome president and CEO.
Like many other women, Sen wasn't aware just how great a danger the disease posed until her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in advanced stages. She died within a year of diagnosis.
Turning grief into action, Sen launched her Houston-based nonprofit in 2012 to help create more awareness around the disease.
"We know that over 70% of women get diagnosed with ovarian cancer at advanced stages because of non-specific symptoms," Sen said. "However, if detected early, the five-year survival rate for this disease is over 90%. That's not trivial."
5 ovarian cancer symptoms you should know
Central to Ovarcome's message is an acronym known as "B.E.A.C.H," a list of symptoms Sen said every person with ovaries should know:
- Bloating: Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
- Early Satiety: Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly
- Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
- Changes in bowel and bladder habits
- Heightened fatigue
While these symptoms are somewhat vague and nonspecific, Sen said some women brush them off as normal parts of their monthly cycles.
"However, the thing to note is if these symptoms persist and they don't go away after two to three weeks, that is when you absolutely must talk to your physician," Sen said.
With symptoms that could be confused with so many other things, it becomes easy to see why ovarian cancer has become the deadliest gynecologic cancer.
Journalist Kat Cosley, who will moderate Friday's virtual conference, said she was surprised when she first learned the warning signs for ovarian cancer.
"I think that there's so many of us that are just so worried about taking care of and pouring into everyone else that we almost, you know, we expect to be tired, we expect to be bloated," Cosley said. "We expect to be all of these things, and so it almost becomes just part of our lives, and I think that with the awareness and saying, 'hold on, this isn't normal,' I think that's key."
For more information on ovarian cancer resources and support, visit the Ovarcome website.