What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us: Gynecologic Cancers


Did you know…?

  1. Nearly 80,000 U.S. women are newly diagnosed with cancers affecting reproductive organs each year.
  2. Ovarian cancer is the most deadly gynecologic cancer.
  3. Annually, more than 27,000 women in the U.S. die from some form of gynecologic cancer.
  4. Survival rates for gynecologic cancers are as high as 90% when diagnosed early but drop to 50% when diagnosed later.
  5. September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month.

If you didn't know this information, don't feel bad, because most people don't. According to the Women's Cancer Network, almost one-third of U.S. women feel they are not knowledgeable about gynecologic cancers, the majority (55%) feel they are only somewhat knowledgeable, and only fourteen percent say they are very knowledgeable about gynecologic cancers (PDF). But, hopefully, this will soon change. On December 9, 2006, Congress approved the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act, also known as Johanna's Law. The bill, which is currently awaiting President Bush's approval, would provide $16.5 million to Health and Human Services (HHS) in order to carry out a national campaign to increase awareness and knowledge of gynecological cancers among both the public and health care providers. This would be done in the form of written materials as well as public service announcements designed to encourage women to talk to their physicians about gynecological cancers.

Johanna's Law was created in memory of Johanna Silver Gordon by her sister Sheryl Silver. Gordon, who was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer in 1997, passed away in 2000 at the age of 58. The bill Gordon's sister created in her memory would help to educate people about the many types of gynecological cancers, including ovarian, cervical, uterine, endometrial, vaginal, and vulvar. It took Silver more than three years to get the bill passed, but when it did it passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Although it is encouraging to know that politicians agree gynecologic cancer awareness is important, what concerned me was the lack of women's advocacy organizations supporting or promoting the bill. As a woman and a reproductive rights activist, this bill is something I should have known about long before it went through Congress.

Within the last month, I have experienced three instances where a friend of a friend was diagnosed with some sort of gynecologic cancer. All of these women are under 24 years old. This frightens me because even I don't know a lot about the signs and symptoms of these types of cancers. Growing up in the age of breast cancer awareness, I almost forgot that women get any other type of cancer. With the recent approval of the HPV vaccine and the likely enactment of this bill, I can only hope that people will become more aware of and better equipped for early detection of gynecologic cancers. I also hope that women's organizations will become more involved in the advocacy of gynecologic cancer awareness and education because what we don't know about it will hurt us.

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To schedule an interview with Dawna Cornelissen please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • caraet

    President Bush signed this bill into law January 12. It remains unfunded for the time being, but it is still law…

  • dawna-cornelissen

    Thanks for the update!