WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — Ovarian cancer is considered the deadliest gynecologic cancer.
When detected in late stages, the five-year survival rate is less than 30 percent. Detecting ovarian cancer early is difficult and even more problematic in black women.
One of the risk factors for ovarian cancer, although considered a low one, is endometriosis. An African-American woman who battled that condition for more than 30 years is sharing her story to raise awareness about the racial disparities when it comes to ovarian cancer.
“It took 14 years for myself to be diagnosed with endometriosis,” said Shantana Hazel, founder of the Sister Girl Foundation.
Hazel says after countless doctors and more than a dozen surgeries, she finally got to the bottom of her endometriosis — a disorder caused when tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of the organ. She blames her delayed diagnosis, in part, on poor access to care and lower socioeconomic status.
“Some of our symptoms are dismissed and we’re being sent home or sent away or just not taken seriously,” Hazel said.
She decided to form a foundation called Sister Girl — a non-profit which provides awareness, education and support for all women with endometriosis, breast and ovarian cancers.
“I didn’t want anyone to suffer in silence any longer as much as I did,” Hazel said.
According to Dr. Elena Ratner, a gynecological oncologist, Hazel’s situation is far too common for Black women — especially when it comes to detecting ovarian cancer.
“So much of what we do is awareness for women to listen to their bodies, to know when something is not right and so much of what we do is also awareness of the providers to know what sounds like ovarian cancer, to know not to chuck something out as hormonal symptoms of menopause and to know how to look for it deeper,” Dr. Ratner said.
But another reason, she says, is insensitive ovarian cancer risk assessment methods like a test called CA125 that’s particularly unreliable in black women. Thankfully, research has progressed which has resulted in better testing.
“There’s a blood test called OVA1 which is better in detection of ovarian cancer in women with masses, particularly the African-American women,” said Dr. Ratner.
Promising news for women Hazel now advocates for.
“I went through all the wrong ways and so now I know all the right ways to do it so I want to share it with women across the world,” Hazel said.
Head to the Aspira Women’s Health website to learn more about racial disparities in dealing with and detecting ovarian cancer.