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Detecting ovarian cancer in young women

Ovarian cancer in younger women is rare. But if they get it, it's more likely to be diagnosed late and can be difficult to treat.

MINNEAPOLIS — In the fall of 2015, Amy Wivell was 27 years old, and ovarian cancer wasn't on her mind.

That all changed when she woke up from surgery for what she thought was endometriosis. Amy got the news that would change her life: She had stage 4 ovarian cancer. 

"I asked the surgeon for a general timeframe," Amy said. "Their response was just, 'Live every day the best that you can.'"

Amy has low-grade serous carcinoma, a rare, slow-growing type of ovarian cancer. 

Ovarian cancer in women as young as Amy is rare. According to the National Cancer Institute, just 4% of cases are in women between the ages of 20 to 34. It's most frequently diagnosed in women 55 to 64. But when young women get it, the cancer is more likely to be diagnosed late.

"There's danger in thinking it's just a middle-aged women's disease," said Kris Greer, an ovarian cancer survivor and Chair of the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance Board of Directors. "You may have symptoms and ignore them... the later the stage, the harder it is to treat."

The symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, feeling full, or changes in urinary patterns.

Amy said she had been seeing a doctor for those symptoms for probably a year and a half. 

"My main goal in sharing my story [is that] I give someone else that's younger a little courage... to listen to their gut, when their gut is saying something is off."

The Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance is holding a walk and 5K run to raise awareness and money for research. It's Saturday, September 18 at Rosland Park in Edina. Find more information here.

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