Can­cer stealthy killer of women

Bay of Plenty Times - - NATION -

Gau­tami Mo­tu­pally was just 13 and about to start at Lyn­field Col­lege in Auck­land’s west. She had no­ticed she was gain­ing weight. Not nec­es­sar­ily un­com­mon in a young teenage girl. So she made what she thought would be a rou­tine visit to her doc­tor.

The GP no­ticed some­thing wrong straight away and had her ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal. The next day Gau­tami had a six-kilo­gram cyst re­moved, as well as her right ovary. She had dys­ger­mi­noma or ovar­ian germ cell can­cer.

After the surgery and six months of chemo­ther­apy, Gau­tami started mak­ing a full re­cov­ery. She is now 20, a sec­ond-year oc­cu­pa­tional ther­apy stu­dent at AUT and her prog­no­sis for a long and healthy life is good.

She has even been told she can have chil­dren.

I raise Gau­tami’s story be­cause Septem­ber is gy­nae­co­log­i­cal can­cer aware­ness month.

It’s one of those aware­ness cam­paigns close to my heart be­cause my first wife Ce­cile died of ovar­ian can­cer in 1996. She was 42.

There are five gy­nae­co­log­i­cal can­cers. Ovar­ian is the most dan­ger­ous. It is in­sid­i­ous, of­ten not dis­cov­ered early enough, has symp­toms which are com­mon with other con­di­tions and, when fi­nally di­ag­nosed, it’s of­ten too late to do much about it.

The other can­cers in the group are uter­ine, vul­val, vagi­nal and cer­vi­cal. The only screen­ing pro­gramme is the smear test for cer­vi­cal can­cer.

Be­cause of my fam­ily con­nec­tion with ovar­ian can­cer, I

"It is in­sid­i­ous . . . and, when fi­nally di­ag­nosed, it’s of­ten too late to do much."

am a trustee of the New Zealand Gy­nae­co­log­i­cal Can­cer Foun­da­tion (NZGCF).

To be hon­est, com­pared to some health and can­cer char­i­ties, the NZGCF is pretty small. Our main aim is to raise aware­ness of these dis­eases and, in par­tic­u­lar, to en­cour­age any woman who may be feel­ing pos­si­ble symp­toms to see a doc­tor as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Sadly, there’s not much aware­ness about these dis­eases, yet con­sider this:

One woman dies of a gy­nae­co­log­i­cal can­cer in New Zealand ev­ery day.

Three women are di­ag­nosed ev­ery day.

More die of ovar­ian can­cer in New Zealand each year than of melanoma.

The most com­mon symp­toms are ab­dom­i­nal swelling and bloat­ing (as was the case with Gau­tami), and ab­nor­mal eat­ing and toi­let habits. Of­ten this is ac­com­pa­nied by back pain. But sadly, it seems a lot of GPs will not recog­nise or con­sider a gy­nae­co­log­i­cal can­cer when a pa­tient first comes in with the symp­toms.

I know of two women, both in their 30s, who saw a doc­tor, know­ing that some­thing was wrong.

One of them, in the end, frus­trated with her GP, took her­self to Auck­land Hos­pi­tal and in­sisted on be­ing tested. She had ovar­ian can­cer. It was de­tected early. She has had surgery and chemo­ther­apy and her prog­no­sis, like that of Gau­tami, is good.

An­other, from fur­ther south, also knew some­thing was wrong. But like many be­fore her, and prob­a­bly since, she was sent away with what her GP sug­gested was ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome (IBS). That’s not sur­pris­ing. Some re­search sug­gests more than 20 per cent of those who even­tu­ally are di­ag­nosed with ovar­ian can­cer are ini­tially told they have IBS.

By the time the real cause of this woman’s pain and dis­com­fort was dis­cov­ered, her con­di­tion had pro­gressed dis­turbingly.

Early di­ag­no­sis for all gy­nae­co­log­i­cal can­cers, but es­pe­cially ovar­ian, is key to im­prov­ing out­comes. But for early di­ag­no­sis, we need more aware­ness of both the dis­ease and its symp­toms.

It is not a high-pro­file ill­ness like breast or prostate can­cer.

So if the above words have im­proved your knowl­edge of the dis­ease, I’ve made my point. If you, or some­one you know, may be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the symp­toms I’ve de­scribed, in­sist they see a GP.

Hope­fully, they’ll be as for­tu­nate as 13-year-old Gau­tami Mo­tu­pally.

One woman dy­ing ev­ery day from these dis­eases is one woman too many.


After surgery and six months of chemo­ther­apy, Gau­tami Mo­tu­pally started mak­ing a full re­cov­ery.

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