Shop and Save Lives

July 22, 2014

HERA is proud to partner with a new community of shoppers who are changing the world just by buying from sites they already love. Using sites like iMyne, Amazon Smile and eBay Giving Works, online purchases generate an automatic donation for HERA – and cash back and other rewards for you too.  HERA is proud to be a featured charity on iMyne – be sure to check it out.

Shop. Earn. Donate. All at Once.

You already participate in Climb4Life. You already run your heart out for HERA. You already donate. But shop? Yes! Many of the retailers you know and love offer money back for online purchases or automatic donations to HERA. All you have to do is click on the links below to start supporting HERA with the purchases you’re already making online:

Simply search for the HERA Women’s Cancer Foundation under charities, select us and get started!

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Colorado Guide Celebrates Life

July 7, 2014

Fowler Lemonade StandBy Ian Fowler

My story with HERA began nearly 30 years ago, before I had even heard of ovarian cancer. This was the day I first went rock climbing. It was a cold damp (I grew up in the UK) March day and I had the chance to rock climb. I stepped up, climbed halfway up a 5.4, and my hiking boot fell off. So I was lowered to the ground, re-tied my hiking boot and continued climbing up the 2 pitch route and then rapelled back to the ground. What does this have to do with HERA? This was the day I was hooked on climbing!

Fast forward 20 years to New Zealand. I was living in New Zealand starting a non-profit working with people with disabilities in the outdoors. My parents came to visit me and we had a great time hiking, travelling, and enjoying the beautiful New Zealand countryside. As we adventured my Mum commented frequently about feeling bloated and like she had gas. She also felt full really soon at meals. Looking back she had 3 of the key ovarian cancer symptoms; the only ones missing were urinary/bowel concerns and vaginal bleeding, and who chats about those things with their Mum. I left my parents to guide a 5 day sea kayaking trip in the Abel Tasman national park. I was jolted back from white sand beaches, kayaking with seals and clear blue seas by multiple voicemails from my Dad letting me know Mum was in hospital. My Mum had ovarian cancer! She had treatment and thankfully went into remission for 1 year when she was able to enjoy travel, hiking her family and my wedding. The ovarian cancer came back and, despite more treatment, she died on Thursday, July 13, 2006.

When I moved to Colorado I discovered HERA and it seemed like the perfect way to honor the memory of my Mum doing something I love to do. I’ve been one of the Colorado Mountain School guides at the Colorado climb for many years (often with the troublemakers/incredible fundraising team of the Denver Senders). This year I started my own team, called Friends & Family of Viv, in honor of my Mum. Since little people under the age of 6 don’t participate at the event, I put together a kids’ event the day before Climb4Life Colorado. Nine kids raised money through their daycares, schools, and neighborhoods. Our girls did a lemonade stand and a yard sale, selling some of their toys to raise money. Altogether, our kids raised $132.97, all of it in honor of Granny Viv. They brought their donation to the climb in a little plastic box, most of it in dimes, nickels and pennies, and they were so proud to be part of the event.

Join us for next year’s Climb4Life in Boulder, CO. It’s a great day of camaraderie, laughter, and fun. There’s always pro climbers hanging out and chatting. Who knows, you may get a belay from Tommy Caldwell!  Whether you climb for fun, or in honor of a loved one, join us for a day that celebrates life.

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HERA Expert Answers Questions about CA125

June 30, 2014

Many women have questions about the CA125 blood test as it relates to ovarian cancer.  HERA Board member and medical advisor, Sarah Adams, explains what the CA125 test measures, outlines the symptoms of ovarian cancer, and discusses the importance of getting a second opinion if a woman  knows something isn’t “right.”

Sarah Adams

Can you help us understand why the CA125 is a good screening tool for some, but not for everyone?

CA125 is a protein which is elevated in the blood of some women with ovarian cancer.  It can be measured with a simple blood test, and levels correlate with response to therapy in women undergoing treatment.  CA125 levels are also measured after completion of cancer treatment to monitor for disease recurrence.

In addition to using CA125 levels as a surrogate marker for tumor burden in women with a confirmed ovarian cancer diagnosis, many clinicians have used CA125 levels to evaluate women with ovarian masses to determine how likely it is that the mass is a cancer, and some clinicians measure CA125 levels in women at high risk of ovarian cancer as a way of screening for the disease.

Unfortunately, because CA125 levels can be elevated in benign conditions (endometriosis, fibroids, infections), and because as many as 50% of women with early-stage ovarian cancer do not have elevations in their CA125 levels, this test is not sensitive or specific enough to recommend for screening in the general population.  In fact, following the results of a trial that enrolled 78,237 women between the ages of 55 and 74 who were randomized to annual screening (four years of transvaginal ultrasounds and six years of CA125 serum levels) or usual care which failed to show a difference in ovarian cancer-specific or overall mortality, the US Preventative Task Force has recommended against screening average-risk women for ovarian cancer, stating that screening can cause more harm than benefit.  This is because the only way to confirm a cancer diagnosis is to remove the ovary surgically, and many women from the trial who underwent surgery but were not diagnosed with cancer had complications as a result of their operations.

Importantly, the recommendations against surgery by the USPTF do not apply to women at high risk of ovarian cancer, including women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer, or women who have been tested and found to carry a genetic mutation that increases their risk of developing ovarian cancer (BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations, or women with Lynch Syndrome).  In these women, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that physicians measure CA125 levels every 6 – 12 months and obtain a transvaginal ultrasound to screen patients for ovarian cancer.  This testing should start at age 30-35 or 5-10 years before the earliest diagnosis in a family member.  Despite these recommendations, ACOG states that there is no evidence that screening improves survival in women high-risk populations, and the NCCN finds there is not sufficient evidence to support screening for ovarian cancer in any population, including women at increased risk.

It is also important to recognize that the USPTF recommendations against screening do not apply to women with symptoms of ovarian cancer who are seeking a diagnosis or treatment.  In patients with a pelvic mass or abnormal findings on exam, a CA125 elevation may prompt referral to a cancer specialist.

If there is no screening for ovarian cancer how is it ever diagnosed?

It can be difficult to make a diagnosis of ovarian cancer because the most common symptoms experienced by women are vague, and are usually not present until the tumor has already spread within the abdominal cavity.  The four most common symptoms reported by women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer are: 1) abdominal bloating or increased abdominal girth; 2) pelvic pain; 3) changes in bowel or bladder habits; 4) loss of appetite or quickly feeling full.  Because these symptoms may also be present in patients with gastrointestinal disorders,  a diagnosis of ovarian cancer may not be considered initially by patients or clinicians.  To educate both health care professionals and the public about these symptoms and the importance of early referral to gynecologic oncologists for the treatment of ovarian cancer, education campaigns with the slogan “Ovarian Cancer:  It whispers!”  have been launched.

Ultimately, a diagnosis of ovarian cancer requires surgery to remove the ovary, or part of the ovary.  This operation should be performed by a gynecologic oncologist or by an experienced pelvic surgeon in consultation with a gynecologic oncologist, since multiple studies have shown that outcomes are better among women treated by specialists in ovarian cancer.

If someone experiences the symptoms of ovarian cancer, what should she do?

If a woman has pelvic pain, persistent bloating, and increase in her abdominal girth, changes in her bowel or bladder habits, or early satiety, she should consult with her physician and ask whether these might be symptoms of an ovarian cancer.  To evaluate her, the clinician would most likely perform a physical exam – including a pelvic exam – and may order blood tests (CA125) or imaging studies (CT or ultrasound).  Based on the results of these procedures, a woman may be referred to a gynecologic oncologist for further work-up or treatment.

What if her doctor tells her that everything is fine but she knows something isn’t “right”?

Documenting the frequency and quality of symptoms can help a physician to make a diagnosis.  Discussing symptoms that may be concerning for ovarian cancer with a gynecologist or a primary care physician may also be helpful.  In any case, it is always appropriate to seek a second opinion for any medical concern.

What can one of our readers do to help?

Getting the word out about the symptoms of ovarian cancer may help women get appropriate care and surgery faster.  In addition, despite numerous studies by researchers all over the world, there is still no effective screening test for ovarian cancer.  Helping to fund innovative research through organizations like HERA may change this.   We know that the cure rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer while it is still confined to the ovaries exceeds 90%, but the overall survival rate is only 40% because we so rarely find this cancer early.   Diagnosing this cancer before it has a chance to spread – in most cases before it has even caused symptoms – would be expected to radically alter the outcomes for the thousands of women diagnosed each year and is the most important priority for ovarian cancer research.

Sarah Adams, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Gynecologic Oncology at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

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