Ovarian cancer symptoms subtle, says survivor

Photo provided by Terri ColcloughTerri Colclough is a survivor of ovarian cancer and is a national advocate for the disease.
Photo provided by Terri ColcloughTerri Colclough is a survivor of ovarian cancer and is a national advocate for the disease.

After surviving ovarian cancer, Terri Colclough, of Prairieville, has become an advocate for those afflicted with the disease.

Colclough, 58, was diagnosed in 2012 with the cancer after watching her mother fight it and become cancer-free.

The type of cancer is often misdiagnosed, Colclough said, and doctors can confuse the symptoms with other diseases.

“A large majority of women go to three doctors before they’re diagnosed,” she said. “That causes it to be late stage and the survival odds are not good at all. They have not improved in 40 years.”

Chosen by the National Ovarian Cancer Alliance as one of 28 advocates, Colclough spoke to The Advocate in advance of World Ovarian Cancer Day, which is Thursday.

How is ovarian cancer diagnosed?

“Doctors for a long time have said it’s the silent disease, that there aren’t symptoms. But the research has shown that there really are symptoms, but they’re subtle symptoms, and doctors often blame other things.”

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

“The acronym is BEAT. Bloating that’s persistent. Eating less, but feeling full. Abdominal pain and trouble with bladder, like frequent urination. If a woman has these symptoms daily for more than a few weeks, she needs to go in and ask for an ultrasound of her ovaries and a blood test that’s called a CA-125. There is no screening tool.”

How common is ovarian cancer?

“One in 72 women. So it’s much less common than, say, breast cancer. It’s much less common, but it’s much more deadly. Ninety-five percent of breast cancer survivors live more than five years, where as only 20 to 30 percent of ovarian cancer survivors are alive in five years. It’s scary.”

What needs to be done?

“We need an early screening test. The CA125 measures the level of a protein in your blood, but it’s not a good predictor. It’s not really reliable. … It’s the best tool that we have. That combined with a pelvic ultrasound together is the best means for detecting the cancer.

“We need additional money for research because there is so much that is not known about ovarian cancer.”