ROYAL OAK, Mich. — It was back in 2015 when Karen O'Brien's doctor found a mass during a routine exam. That mass turned out to be ovarian cancer, which came back not once, not twice, but three times.
Karen underwent three rounds of chemotherapy and a round of radiation this last time, which she just finished in February.
“The hard part with this is that I won’t know until Monday, this coming Monday, if it worked,"she told Action News.
Karen, who coaches high school volleyball in Monroe, helped create "Teal Attack," teal being the color for Ovarian Cancer. She also works closely with the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance (MIOCA) to raise awareness for the diseases, which is far less known than other cancers.
“There’s so much awareness for breast cancer. Their month is October. Well in September you start seeing pink everywhere," Karen said. “Teal Attack’s month is September. And you rarely see teal. And part of using teal attack with sporting events is to raise money and awareness.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, 1.2% of women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
“The dilemma we have with ovarian cancer, is we have very limited utility in screening for ovarian cancer or true prevention," said Dr. Sangeeta Kaur, associate medical director for OBGYN at Beaumont Royal Oak.
According to the CDC, common signs of ovarian cancer can include:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pressure or pain in the pelvic area
- Trouble eating, or feeling full too quickly
- Changes in bathroom habits like frequently needing to urinate
“The two biggest risk factors for ovarian cancer are age, so women older than 50 are more likely to have ovarian cancer, and if there’s a family history of ovary cancer," Dr. Kaur told Action News.
Karen is positive for BRCA 1, a gene mutation common linked to ovarian cancer; something that runs in her family.
As for cervical cancer, 0.6% of women in the U.S. will be diagnosed in their lifetime. According to the National Cancer Institute, the rate of new cases of cervical cancer is 7.5 out of 100,000.
The best way to prevent cervical cancer, Dr. Kaur told Action news, is regular pap smears to screen for it, and getting the HPV vaccine, available to both males and females aged 9-26. The shot is generally given to adolescents.
“We certainly have data on the vaccine for over 12 to 15 years now. It has significantly cut down the rate of cervical cancer," she said. “Uterine cancer is actually the most common GYN-related cancer."
It was uterine cancer that claimed the life of Michelle Campbell's mother last year.
“The cancer had mutated to her lungs, so it spread quickly. She was stage 4 at the time she passed," Michelle, who is from Clarkston, told Action News.
3.1 percent of women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with uterine cancer in their lifetime. Michelle said her mother put off regular visits to the doctor for years.
“I don’t know how long she had it," she said. "It was probably at least a year or two.”
While pap smears don't screen for uterine or ovarian cancers, visiting your doctor in the first place is an important step to overall wellness, said. Dr. Kaur.
Like Karen, Michelle hopes her family's story might inspire others to take action, before it's too late.
"It could save your life," Michelle told Action News.