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An Assembly panel on Monday advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Dan Benson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to establish a statewide ovarian cancer public awareness campaign to help increase survival rates among women.

“Because early detection and treatment often mean the difference between life and death, it’s important to increase awareness of the factors that put certain women at a higher risk for the disease,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Because many of the symptoms are vague and non-specific, women and their physicians often attribute them to more common conditions so that by the time the cancer is diagnosed the tumor has often spread. Simple awareness can make all the difference.”

This bill (A-3837) would require the state Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to establish the public awareness campaign to inform the general public about the clinical significance of ovarian cancer and its public health implications. The campaign would include risk factors, symptoms, the need for early detection and methods of treatment.

“If found and treated in its earliest stages, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is 95 percent,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Unfortunately, most women who suffer from ovarian cancer are not diagnosed until the later stages when the disease has spread and the five-year survival rate decreases to roughly 30 percent. Bringing this issue to the forefront of women’s minds is paramount to the survival of many.”

The symptoms of ovarian cancer include: general abdominal discomfort or pain, such as gas, indigestion, pressure, swelling, bloating or cramps; nausea, diarrhea, constipation or frequent urination; loss of appetite; feeling of fullness after a light meal; weight gain or loss with no known reason; and abnormal bleeding from the vagina;

Although development of a screening test to detect ovarian cancer remains a very active area of research, currently there is no definitive prevention strategy, but having regular pelvic examinations may decrease the overall risk of dying from ovarian cancer.

The sponsors underscored the importance of the public awareness campaign, noting that ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and ranks fourth as a cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States. Additionally, more than half of the deaths from ovarian cancer occur in women between the ages of 55 and 74 years of age and approximately one quarter of ovarian cancer deaths occur in women between 35 and 54 years of age.

In order to carry out the public awareness campaign, the legislation requires DHSS to, at a minimum:

  • develop printed educational materials and public service announcements in English and Spanish; and
  • distribute the information to the public, through a variety of means, including, but not limited to, local health agencies and clinics, physicians, health care facilities, county offices on aging, pharmacies, libraries, senior citizen centers, other community-based outreach programs and organizations, and the department’s official website.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.