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Specter Introduces Gynecological Cancer Education and Awareness Act

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Today, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) introduced The Gynecological Cancer Education and Awareness Act of 2010, also known as Johanna's Law. This legislation would fund a national awareness and education campaign to inform physicians and individuals of the risk factors and symptoms of these often-deadly diseases.

Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) are cosponsors.

"Every year over 80,000 women in the United States are newly diagnosed with some form of gynecologic cancer," Sen. Specter said. "We must do everything in our power to promote education and early detection of these cancers so that we can increase women's survival rates and quality of life."

When gynecological cancer is detected in its earliest stage, patients' 5-year survival rates are greater than 90 percent and many go on to live normal, healthy lives. Unfortunately, thousands of women in the U.S. each year aren't diagnosed until their cancers have progressed to more advanced and far less treatable stages. In the case of ovarian cancer, which kills more women in the U.S. than all other gynecologic cancers combined, more than 40 percent of all new diagnoses take place after this cancer has progressed beyond its earliest and most survivable stage.

"The Ovarian Cancer Community thanks Senator Specter for making a difference by introducing Johanna's Law," said Robin Cohen, Ovarian Cancer National Alliance Board Member. "Knowledge about symptoms by physicians and women is key to the early detection of ovarian cancer. This year, approximately 1,070 in PA will be diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer. This Law will ensure that women are diagnosed sooner and will increase their survival rates."

To date, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has carried out the national awareness campaign which has maintained and distributed a supply of written materials that provide information to the public about gynecologic cancers. Further, the program has developed public service announcements encouraging women to discuss their risks for gynecologic cancers with their physicians, and inform the public about the availability of written materials and how to obtain them. The cost of continuing this awareness campaign is $5.5 million per year from 2010-2012, totaling $16.5 million.

The bill, also known as Johanna's Law, is named after Johanna Silver Gordon, who was diagnosed at an advanced stage of ovarian cancer. Johanna, the daughter and sister of physicians, was a health conscious woman who took appropriate measures to maintain a healthy lifestyle including exercising regularly, eating nutritiously, and receiving annual Pap smears and pelvic exams. Johanna, however, did not know until too late that the gastric symptoms she experienced in the fall of 1996 were common symptoms of ovarian cancer. Despite aggressive treatment that included four surgeries, various types of chemotherapy, and participation in two clinical trials, Johanna died from ovarian cancer 3 1/2 years after being diagnosed.

Senator Specter, as former Chairman and Ranking Member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, led, along with Senator Harkin, the effort to double funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) over five years. Funding for the NIH has increased from $12 billion in fiscal year 1995 to $27 billion in fiscal year 2003. In 2004, the NIH, through the National Cancer Institute provided $243 million for gynecological cancer research.

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