Threat of cancer requires vigilant testing

26 Mar 2004 | Cpl. Kat Johnson

At age 20, many Americans are mid-way through college or are a part of a growing workforce learning about the opportunities life can offer.

Along with planning for future education or employment, many 20-year-old women are also scheduling their first doctor’s appointment for breast and reproductive cancer screening.

At the appointment, women are screened for breast cancer and undergo examinations for other cancers that affect the reproductive system. After the exam, the doctor will give a list of cancers that may develop in one of the reproductive organs. The list will contain an explanation of more than a dozen deadly cancers and their warning signs. Unfortunately, there is no list as to how to avoid cancer.

Cancer of the reproductive system does not strike becaue of poor eating habits, although the Food and Drug Administration has proven that an apple a day might actually keep the doctor away. Cancer does not care how old people are or what type of job they may have. It might not even warn that it is coming. Sometimes it strikes with deadly force and other times with only a benign scare, according to the American Cancer Society.

Every year, more than 80,000 women in the U.S. endure this episode of life, counting on x-rays, chemotherapy and drugs to battle cancerous cells that attempt to take over their bodies. Most women learn they have a reproductive system cancer when they are tested during a pelvic examination. Usually, the doctor will scrape skin from the inner lining of the uterus, inspect it for abnormal color then send it off to a lab for further testing.

“Marines and Sailors are required to have their pelvic exams performed every year during their birth month,” said Elizabeth Ciminello, Licensed Practical Nurse, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

The pelvic exam lasts approximately of 30 minutes and can detect most abnormal development in the reproductive area. The pelvic exam is one of the top detectors for reproductive cancer and should not be rescheduled or postponed, according to the American Cancer Society.

However, pelvic exams do not detect all types of ovarian cancer. Primary Peritoneal Cancer is a type of ovarian cancer that can only be detected through a blood analysis test titled CA-125 blood test. The cancer develops from tissue in the peritoneal area of the body, the liver, abdomen, and intestine. It is not a cancer that stems from the ovaries but it does develop from the same tissue, and surgery should be performed to protect the reproductive system, according to the National Gynecological Center.

“Female Marines and Sailors can receive the test if they have a history of this type of cancer in their family,” said Ciminello. “If they are unsure of their history, they can also request to have the test performed.”

One out of every 55 women will develop Primary Peritoneal Cancer. Warning signs similar to those of ovarian cancer are  common. A distinguishing characteristic is extreme bloating of the abdomen that persists for more than a week. Usually, the abdomen will swell to resemble a four-month pregnant woman.