November 4, 2003  


Early Detection of Gynecologic Cancers Dramatically Increases Survival Rates: Legislation Introduced to launch Campaign to Educate Women and Doctors


Reps. Sander Levin (D-Michigan) and Kay Granger (R-Texas) joined with 36 of their colleagues to introduce Johanna’s Law: The Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act.

The legislation would create a federal campaign to increase early detection of gynecologic cancers like ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, and uterine cancer and, when possible, help women reduce their risk of ever contracting them. The legislation takes a two-pronged approach, combining a national Public Service Announcement directed at all women with targeted grants to local and national organizations.

"So many women, even the most health-conscious, are not aware that their symptoms are connected with gynecologic cancers until it’s too late for effective treatment," said Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI). "Federal action is needed to broadly distribute the most up-to-date early warning information to women and their doctors."

"Most women want to do everything within their power to ensure their lives are long and healthy. If we can get women through the doctor's door, regular check-ups and knowing the symptoms can prevent many of these cancers from becoming terminal. The best hope of survival is early detection," said Rep. Kay Granger.

Detecting gynecologic cancer early is particularly important and effective because gynecologic cancer is highly treatable in early stages and generally fatal in later stages. For ovarian cancer, the most deadly of the gynecologic cancers, the five-year survival rate for women whose cancer is detected in Stage 1 is 90 percent. In Stage 2, the survival rate is still 80 percent. But if the cancer proceeds to Stage 3 or 4, the survival rate drops dramatically, to 20 percent or less. The Pap test is highly accurate in detecting a precursor to cervical cancer and is recommended as a routine screening.

Ovarian and uterine cancer do not yet have screening tests which can be used in an asymptomatic population, but they can be detected, diagnosed, and treated if women and physicians recognize the signs.

Johanna’s Law has been endorsed by 12 national organizations representing doctors, nurses, women, cancer survivors, and their families (see attached list).

Kenneth D. Hatch, M.D., President of The Society of Gynecologic Oncologists, thanked Representatives Levin and Granger for their leadership on this initiative. "While diagnosis and treatment techniques are becoming more refined and accurate, we still have more than 80,000 women being diagnosed with gynecologic cancers and approximately 26,000 loose their battle each year to these cancers. This bill takes critical steps towards informing not only women, but their health care professionals of gynecologic cancer prevention, early diagnosis and proper treatment options. I hope Congress will act swiftly to pass this important legislation that will undoubtedly save women’ s lives."

The bill is named for Johanna Silver Gordon, a health-conscious public school teacher from Michigan who died of ovarian cancer in 2000.

"Johanna and I learned only after she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that the persistent heartburn and abdominal bloating she experienced were among common symptoms of the disease," said Sheryl Silver, Johanna’s sister. "Action by the federal government is needed because the lack of information is pervasive and life-threatening, contributing to delayed diagnosis for far too many women."

Ms. Silver was awarded the 2003 Gynecologic Cancer Foundation Public Service Award because of her devotion to educating women about gynecologic cancers.