Friday, November 6, 2009

Scary But Unhelpful Health Advice for Ladies: Ovarian Cancer Edition

I received this chain email the other day from a well-meaning friend. The email did not attribute it to any source, but I used the Google and I think it may have come from here (PDF). It's title is "Ovarian Cancer Whispers- So Listen!" and here is what it says:

"Watch for Pelvic or abdominal pain or discomfort; vague but persistent gastrointestinal upsets such as gas, nausea, and indigestion; frequency and/or urgency of urination in the absence of an infection; unexplained weight gain or weight loss; pelvic and/or abdominal swelling, bloating and/or feeling of fullness; ongoing unusual fatigue; or unexplained changes in bowel habits. Aching legs.

If symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, ask your doctor for a combination pelvic/rectal exam, CA-125 blood test, and transvaginal ultrasound. A Pap Test WILL NOT detect ovarian cancer."

Cyberchondriac that I am, I already knew all of this, actually, and during the course of my life have already convinced myself multiple times that I've had ovarian cancer even though I'm not in an age group that is considered "risky" for the disease. How do I know I'm not in a "risky" age group? Because I came across those statistics whilst looking up survival rates to see how long I had left to live.

Now, despite my own hypochondriac tendencies, I don't know that many women would not think they had ovarian cancer upon reading the above symptoms. What woman, or man for that matter, doesn't experience those symptoms from time to time? Look out for "vague but persistent" stomach upsets, upsets that are quite common and have innumerable causes? Gee, thanks.

I'm sure this screening tool was well-intentioned. But I have to wonder, how helpful is it really? And, most importantly, shouldn't psychological distress caused by ScArY CaNcEr ScReEnIng tools be factored into the equation at some point?

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