A mother of four who was misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome before doctors discovered a massive tumor on her ovaries has revealed the early symptoms of ovarian cancer that every woman should know.
Danielle Malafant’s ‘excruciating’ stomach pain was dismissed as IBS before she was rushed to hospital after collapsing at a family barbecue in July 2015.
While paramedics initially thought she was suffering from appendicitis, scans showed the administrative assistant from Wollongong, NSW, had a 13.5cm tumor — half the length of a 600ml Coke bottle — growing on her right ovary.
Despite having telltale symptoms for years before her diagnosis, including bloating, constipation and intense pain, Ms. Malafant says her condition was repeatedly overlooked by primary care physicians and counselors.
Danielle Malafant (pictured) urges women to pay attention to changes in their bodies and request genetic testing to determine if they are at risk for gynecological cancer
A surgeon successfully removed the growth and affected ovary, but when the tumors on the left grew back, Ms. Malafant had little choice but to have a hysterectomy — removal of the uterus — to make sure her cancer wouldn’t return.
She now wonders if the outcome could have been different.
“I feel frustrated looking back,” she told the Daily Mail Australia.
“It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life – I gave birth to my kids naturally without pain medication, and this was 10 times worse, but they told me it was just IBS.
‘I think more information should be made available to women. I was turned away again and again, I showed symptoms and they still didn’t catch it.’
Mother of four (second from right) was repeatedly misdiagnosed with IBS before doctors discovered a 13.5cm tumor on her right ovary
Ms Malafant is one of an estimated 1,720 Australian women who develop ovarian cancer each year, government health service Research shows.
It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in Australian women, after lung, gut, stomach, liver and breast.
Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect because its early-stage symptoms are vague and easily confused with those of less sinister diseases like IBS.
Common warning signs include abdominal bloating, feeling full after small amounts of food, an urgent need to urinate, and constipation, as well as indigestion, fatigue, and pain during sex.
In some cases, patients may also experience lower back pain, sudden, unexplained weight loss, and stomach or pelvic discomfort.
Ms. Malafant (right, with her husband Scott and oldest children) had to have a hysterectomy before her 38th birthday to prevent cancer from returning
Causes of ovarian cancer
– Aging (risk increases above 50)
– Family history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer
– Early onset of menstruation (before 12 years) and late menopause
– Women who had their first child after the age of 35
– Never use oral contraceptives
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
Unlike cervical, breast, and colon cancers, there are no screening programs for ovarian cancer.
A specialist blood test that detects the CA125 protein – which is produced by ovarian cancer cells – can be used to diagnose the disease.
But menstruation and conditions like endometriosis and benign ovarian cysts also cause this protein to develop, meaning the test alone cannot be used to confirm the presence or absence of cancer.
In addition. more than 50 percent of women with early-stage ovarian cancer do not show elevated CA125 levels, meaning internal ultrasound should be done in conjunction with the blood test for a definitive diagnosis.
All types of ovarian cancer are treatable with early care, but death rates remain high due to the lack of effective early detection measures.
Despite having telltale signs for years before her diagnosis, including bloating and constipation, Ms. Malafant (left) says her condition was repeatedly overlooked by doctors
With a survival rate of just 46 percent at five years, it’s crucial to diagnose early and quickly determine whether a genetic mutation — which can only be found through genetic testing — could be responsible.
To help women with this procedure, Australian gynecology charity Pink Hope launched its very first Checklist ‘What to ask’, a simple guide to help people diagnosed with ovarian cancer access the most appropriate genetic test for them
The checklist comes after a survey by the charity found that 47 percent of Australians don’t know or aren’t sure if they’ve had cancer in their family.
Ms Malafant believes she could have avoided a hysterectomy before her 38th birthday if more had been done to publicize the benefits of genetic testing.
“I insist, I must know for my children,” she said.
“If they had tested more in the beginning, I wonder if that could have prevented everything I’ve been through.”
Visit Pink Hope’s website to learn more about ovarian and other gynecological cancers here.