News from Illinois CancerCare

Teal And Pink Reminders

After summer vacation memories are tucked away and the kids have returned to school, the cancer community shines a spotlight on ovarian and breast cancer. Let’s take a look at these cancers that primarily affect women, while keeping in mind that men can get breast cancer, too.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and is often represented with a teal ribbon. Although there are few obvious symptoms and the disease can sneak up on patients, the 5-year survival rate is 90% if the cancer is caught early enough.

Identifying ovarian cancer in its early stages is one of the challenges. Many of the common symptoms can be attributed to other issues. However, if you experience any of the following issues for an extended period of time without an obvious cause – or if you’ve noticed several of these symptoms concurrently – you should tell your primary care provider:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Back pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Heartburn or persistent nausea
  • Feeling an urgent need to urinate or more frequent urination
  • Constipation or menstrual changes
  • Pain during sex

Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the type of cancer, its stage, your overall health and your family history. Treatment protocol typically includes one or more of the following:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Complementary therapies

In addition, some patients may have an opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial to help determine the effectiveness of new treatment options.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and is often associated with a pink ribbon. However, in recent years, the Susan G. Komen organization has changed their annual Race for the Cure to the More Than Pink™ movement. This highlights the important role that an entire community plays in the search for a cure, regardless of age or gender.

Although many patients discover a lump in their breast or notice a different symptom (dimpled skin, swelling, a change in the nipples, etc.), mammograms are vitally important in the diagnosis of breast cancer. Fortunately, mammograms are becoming increasingly available to more women and diagnostic technology continues to evolve.

In addition to full insurance coverage for screening mammograms and breast cancer genetic test counseling (BRCA) for women at high risk, Illinois now requires that insurers cover diagnostic exams (including mammograms, ultrasounds and MRIs) when a medical provider considers it to be necessary. Illinois Senate Bill 162 was signed into law on August 26, 2019 and goes into effect January 1, 2020.

Why does this matter? Because some patients receive a notice to return for further evaluation when their screening mammogram shows something that needs to be investigated. Yet, men and women without more comprehensive insurance may hesitate due to the cost of follow-up exams. And like most cancer, the earlier it’s discovered, the sooner treatment can begin – which leads to better outcomes and lower medical costs.

As we drift into the cooler days of autumn and snuggle in for the winter ahead, we encourage you to pay attention to your body and undergo all age-appropriate cancer screenings during these months of ovarian and breast cancer awareness. (Don’t worry. We didn’t forget the guys! September is also Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, which we discussed last month.)