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Ovarian Cancer Advocates Say Knowing Yourself Is The First, Best Prevention

The symptoms are subtle and common -- abdominal bloating, a feeling of fullness and the urge to urinate more frequently than normal.

There is no reliable test for ovarian cancer, making it difficult to diagnose, said Robin Cohen, co-founder and executive director of the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation in Havertown.

Most women are diagnosed in late stages, and half of them die within five years, she said.

“Our message to women is to really get to know themselves," she said. "If you know how you function on a good day, you’ll almost develop like a sixth sense when something isn’t quite right.”

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month when Cohen said foundations like hers devote even more time to telling women about the disease. Cities across the country decorate buildings, dye fountain water and hold 5k races donning teal ribbons as a banner for their cause.

Cohen said it’s important women know their family history. Ovarian cancer has the same genetic link as breast cancer. She also stresses talking to a gynecologist about the disease.

“People think they go to their annual GYN exam every year and they’re kind of covered. But the Pap smear is a screen test for cervical cancer not ovarian cancer,” she said.

The foundation was born through tragedy, Cohen said. She'd been treating a patient, Sandy Rollman, then-32, when Rollman was diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She died six months later.

There were only a few treatments available at the time, Cohen said, so she co-founded the foundation with Rollman’s sister to help fund research and create a support network.

Fifteen years later, she said research is progressing and treatment is no longer the same for every patient.

“It’s a really exciting time in research and targeted cancer therapies have become the focus of cancer research. So today a woman diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she’ll be managed according to the very specific type of ovarian cancer she has,” she said.

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