London Community News
By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
Did you know ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of death in North American women, second to breast cancer? How about the fact that it’s not easily detected and is often found too late?
Did you know that two-thirds of women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer ultimately die?
If you answered ‘no’ to any of those questions, you’re a lot like Shannon Moyer-Szemenyei was before she became co-chair of London’s Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope. But since then, Moyer-Szemenyei has dedicated her time bringing it into the public eye and raising money for research.
“In getting involved with the walk, we’ve met so many people and we’ve heard so many stories,” she said. “It’s meeting all of those different types of people that really brings it home and tells us why we are doing what we are doing.”
Moyer-Szemenyei said through having a walk in London, she’s hoping a lot of funds and awareness will be generated, which would encourage more research or the development of a new detection screening. She stressed currently there isn’t a single test that can be done to detect Ovarian Cancer.
“You can’t just go for a Pap smear and them say, ‘You have some cancer cells.’ That’s not how it works,” Moyer-Szemenyei said. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of MRIs (and) scanning that needs to be done to detect it and, more often than not, when it is detected, it’s already stage 3.
“When it’s that far along, your chances aren’t all that great.”
Symptoms for ovarian cancer can include decreased appetite, constipation, bloating and aching.
Michel Prefontaine, a gynecological oncologist with London Health Sciences Centre, said those are nondescript symptoms and unfortunately they are usually noticed when the disease is in advanced stages.
“They (the patients) certainly can be treated at this point, but the treatment comes more with a goal of long-term palliation or remission rather than cure,” Prefontaine said. “It’s a minority of women that present with cancer that is contained in the ovary and where the surgery removes essentially all of the cancer.”
The oncologist explained the ovaries sit in the abdomen and pelvis, where there’s no barrier to the remainder of the abdomen. When cancer cells shed from the surface of the ovary, they attach to other areas in the abdomen and start new growth.
Aside from chemotherapy, the only treatment is surgery, which comes with its own challenges because the cancer is not contained to just the ovary.
“You can spend a fair amount of time trying to remove the uterus, the tubes and the ovaries,” Prefontaine said. “Sometimes you need to remove part of the bowel to remove the tumor, but despite aggressive surgery, in the majority of cases, there remains cancer at the end of the operation because we try to remove the larger masses, but sometimes there can be dozens or even hundreds of tiny little nodules.”
Chemotherapy also comes with its own challenges, as there’s always a small fraction of the tumor that’s not sensitive to a particular drug, which is responsible for the cancer’s re-growth.
In total, Prefontaine said approximately 12 per 100,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. Currently in Canada there are about 2,000-3,000 women in Canada currently fighting the disease.
And if you take all cases of ovarian cancer, about two-thirds of patients will ultimately die of their disease.
But, both Prefontaine and Moyer-Szemenyei agreed that’s why research is so important.
“We need a better understanding of how cancer starts. To see what would be ways to eventually try to prevent the disease,” Prefontaine said, adding there is currently a team of researchers at LHSC that’s working on translational research into ovarian cancer.
“The other aspect of research is to find new types of drugs that will work better than our current chemotherapy.”
Moyer-Szemenyei added a huge portion of the money raised from the walk will go towards Ovarian Cancer Canada, which funds programs like the one at LHSC. In total, she said, the goal is for approximately 300 people to come out for the walk who will raise more than $15,000.
She added aside from the monetary and awareness components, the walk functions as a means to bring people together.
“It brings that commonality and that camaraderie that you’re not alone,” she said. “I think one of the things we strive to do with the walk is for people to really recognize that they’re not alone in it.”
Rain or shine, the 2.5-kilometre or 5-kilometre walk will take place Sept. 9 at Greenway Park. Registration begins at 2 p.m. and the walk starts an hour later.
For more information or to register as a walker or volunteer, visit www.ovariancancerwalkofhope.ca, where people can also sign up as a virtual walker to raise funds online.
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