Say them with me: Cervical, Ovarian, Uterine, Vaginal, Vulvar. These are not shameful terms, and they are not cancers we can ignore due to discomfort. Let's women-up and take back our health by educating ourselves instead of burying our heads in the sand.
By now you've probably read that Johnson and Johnson was ordered to pay 72 million dollars in damages to a woman's family after she passed away from ovarian cancer. This is because the jury believed the woman's heavy use of talcom powder products for feminine hygiene may have been the cause for her ovarian cancer and ultimate death. The labels on these products have not been required to note that excessive use may cause issues.
This is not the first time this topic has shown up over the years. Yet, it seems to be a huge surprise to women reading this most recent news brief. Why? Because we live in a society that is uncomfortable talking about private parts. There is little glamour in mentioning the unmentionables, but let me announce it here, there is no glamour in dying because we did not have this discussion. Over 98,000 women in America were diagnosed with gynecologic cancers last year. Of that number, over 1/3 did not survive their cancer. Those numbers are staggering and completely unacceptable.
After the Johnson and Johnson story showed up, I was disturbed to read how many women continue to use excessive amounts of over the counter feminine hygiene products that may not be good for their bodies. It's as if no one ever told them their bodies did not need every commercial product now available. Worse yet, those using these products rarely discuss their usage with any doctors.
That's a first step, talk to your gynecologist about what you are using, how much of it you are using, and make sure you are on the same page. Do not be embarrassed or ashamed. No matter what you say to your doctors, I assure you it's probably not the first time they've heard it.
The more I am speaking with other women on this topic, the more I'm realizing their choices in product use have very little to do with health, and everything to do with the fear of not smelling like a pretty pretty princess flower all day every day. Harsh news, it's nice to be a pretty pretty princess flower, but no one is, and your health is more important.
On that note, it is also imperative to actually go to your gynecologic check ups. Do not skip a year or two because it's an uncomfortable experience. Do not ignore changes in your body just because you do not want to make an appointment, or are afraid of what you may discover. It is a necessary part of being a woman, not just the responsible choice.
Many gynecologic cancers are not diagnosed until later stages because the symptoms can mirror other common issues like back pain, or heavy periods. Listen to your body. if you think something is wrong, keep looking for a doctor who will listen to you.
Let's personalize this topic with the story of my friend Cassidy.
At 45 years old, she was feeling healthy and would not have known there was a problem. She went in for an annual physical, and during the pelvic exam her doctor said something didn't feel right. Her diagnosis lead to surgery and thankfully she is alive today. She was lucky considering, most gynecologic cancers do not have prevention and screening tools, and at the time of her diagnosis the survival rate for later staged ovarian cancer was 30%.
As a southern woman, Cassidy used talcum powder/cornstarch products for her entire adult life. The products seemed safe, after all, mothers use talcom powder on their children. Using these products was a common choice for her peer group. She would not have known about the questionable connection to ovarian cancer, except In 2005, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center contacted her to be a part of their study on the subject.
This was not the first study done, a previous study was published in 1997. However, both studies indicated there may be a connection to the powders and ovarian cancer, rather than proving a conclusive tie between the two. It seems there are enough questions, however, that major cancer groups do comment on possible connections rather than ignoring that potential.
Times are changing and we are learning as we go. We are finding more and more chemical and environmental connections to our health than ever before. There are also more options than there once were when caring for our bodies.
Whether the jury was right or wrong in the Johnson and Johnson case, I can not say. If there is a solid connection between feminine hygiene powders and gynecologic cancer, we do not yet have firm documentation. However, because of this Johnson and Johnson decision, women in this country are having a conversation we might not have had otherwise, and for that I am grateful.