Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Angelina effect - can it lead a new cause for standard of care?

Family portrait - teal toes.
I am grateful for the Ovarian Cancer awareness that has been brought about by actress Angelina Jolie Pitt's medical choices and am grateful to her for sharing the concerns of ovarian and breast cancer after losing her mother and aunt to ovarian cancer. Angelina knew her increased risk and took her medical care into her own hands.

From Angelina's article that she wrote for the New York Times in May of 2013: "I choose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer," she wrote. "It is my hope that they, too, will be able to get gene tested, and that if they have a high risk they, too, will know that they have strong options."

I think the important thing to remember is that each individual has to weigh their own options, and that women need to have the options available to them. This is where we need a good standard of care not only for those who are at risk of developing cancer, but for those who have had no history of cancer in their family, and yet, are diagnosed with cancer well into Stage 3. Like my mom and my cousin Heather.

What would my mom have done differently had she been able to know her risk? For her, it wasn't good enough to keep a "close eye out for cancer." Her symptoms were symptoms of many other ailments. It was a process of ruling out one thing over another. WHAT IF Ovarian Cancer awareness had been more prevalent 6 years ago... or even 10 years ago? I remember when my mom was first diagnosed with Stage III Ovarian Cancer in March of 2009. Even then people were saying "At least we caught it."

Looking back now, that's not good enough.

There is not a good screening test for ovarian cancer yet... like the equivalent of a Pap smear, which detects pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. Or like a mammogram, which can catch breast cancer very early. Even the CA125 test has mixed results and is not a reliable indicator. It is something to watch, but it's not a definitive identifier of ovarian cancer.

So we have to rely on awareness... which is all fine and dandy,  but we are still at the same point we always have been - talking and sharing Ovarian Cancer symptoms and telling women to pay close attention to their bodies and talk to their doctor. Many organizations do great work on the awareness front. But that is still not enough.

We have to start moving in a direction of a better standard of care for all women where ovarian cancer is concerned - because all women can be at risk.

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