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'Cancer that whispers' will take center stage at Pittsburgh symposium

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 8:31 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband
Faith Dinkfelt, 52, of Lawrenceville is the manager of governmental billing for West Penn Allegheny Health System. Dinkfelt, who has worked almost 33 years for WPAHS is a two-time ovarian cancer survivor. Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review

Ovarian cancer, sometimes called the cancer that whispers, will take center stage with a roar in Pittsburgh during the next two days as leading researchers, physicians and cancer survivors gather for an international symposium.

It couldn't come too soon for Faith Dinkfelt, 52, of Lawrenceville, a two-time ovarian cancer survivor.

While she's excited that symposium organizers have carved out special programs for survivors, Dinkfelt said she's looking forward to attending the professional sessions.

"The things I'm interested in are new therapies, what's happening with treatment, screening and the possibility of a vaccine. I'm trying to see if there is anything more I can do for myself to stay in remission," said Dinkfelt, who is head of billing for West Penn Allegheny Health System.

The National Cancer Institute estimates more than 22,000 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the United States this year, and about 15,500 will die from it.

Dr. Robert Edwards, director of the Ovarian Cancer Center of Excellence at Magee-Womens Hospital, said the symposium at Herberman Conference Center at the UPMC Cancer Pavilion in Shadyside will feature 50 research presentations.

"We'll have the established senior thought leaders in ovarian cancer research along with the future star researchers in the field and the survivors network. I think it should make for a very productive mix," he said.

Experts will discuss the potential for ovarian cancer prevention, identifying biomarkers for early detection, treatment of high-risk women, clinical trials, quality of life, survivorship issues and complementary therapies.

While much remains unknown, Edwards said researchers have a number of leads on prevention strategies for ovarian cancer.

Unlike breast cancer or prostate cancer, there is no screening test for ovarian cancer. And the symptoms are so subtle -- bloating, frequent urination, fatigue and back pain -- that it is often dismissed entirely or misdiagnosed.

Dinkfelt said that's what happened when she went to the emergency room in July 2006 complaining of bloating and severe abdominal pain.

"They did all kinds of labs, but no CT scan and they said, 'You have the flu. Go home.' That whole week I was in pain. When I went back to the ER a second time, they did a CT scan and found it had already progressed to Stage 4 ovarian cancer," she said.

Dinkfelt beat the odds and survived only to experience a recurrence in 2010. She's in remission now but said she won't ever feel she's escaped the disease.

Mary Urban, chapter manager of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, said she's thrilled the symposium is including women such as Dinkfelt because they have played a major role in alerting and educating the public about the disease and highlighting the need for continuing research.

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