Digestive Issues: Not “Polite” Conversation …. Important to Quality of Life


Digestion: so important, but not considered a “polite” topic of conversation. A 2016 survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Renew Life Probiotics found that 64 percent of the women surveyed do not discuss digestive issues with their friends; another survey commissioned by Abbvie Pharmaceuticals found that 74 percent of respondents experience digestive issues, but, of that group over half have not discussed the issues with their primary care physician.

Based on my personal experience, and the experience of other ovarian cancer survivors, I think there may be many cancer survivors living without an omentum and experiencing undiagnosed or misdiagnosed digestive issues. The Omentum Project is working to increase awareness of the omentum, learn more about the ramifications of living without an omentum, and identify strategies to improve the quality of life for this underserved group of cancer survivors.

The omentum is an understudied organ, and perhaps an underappreciated organ. Its role in the immune system is the reason it is removed in many cancer staging surgeries including ovarian cancer staging surgery, and sometimes with other cancer surgeries such as uterine, colon, and appendix. The omentum is removed because it often contains cancer cells. Ovarian cancer-specific studies demonstrate that removing the omentum increases survival rate.

Role of the Omentum

The omentum’s role in the immune system is only one of the roles of the “quirkiest” organ. The omentum’s role in the lymphatic system and the digestive system is the initial focus of The Omentum Project. In a small, informal online survey completed by 19 cancer survivors living without an omentum, all but one respondent report experiencing digestive issues within the past 30 days. Digestive issues are common among the general population; there may be an even higher prevalence among cancer survivors living without an omentum. Digestive issues reported include:

  • Excessive burping

  • Abdominal pain

  • Uncomfortable sense of fullness, several hours after eating

  • Bloating (gaseous)

  • Abdominal distension (a general, even swelling of the abdomen, not gaseous; “4-months pregnant look”)

  • Passing excessive gas

  • Three or more bowel movements per day

  • Loose stools

  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement

  • Sensation of not completely emptying the bowels

Digestive issues are complicated, sometimes vague, and frequently challenging to diagnose. From my personal experience, the first gastroenterologist I saw diagnosed me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and sent me home with a prescription. I took the pills for three days, and they made my symptoms substantially worse. Fortunately, my oncologist then connected me with a wonderful GI doctor who connected me with a lymphatic specialist; both have helped me learn a great deal about managing digestive fluids and lymphatic fluids with a compromised lymphatic system.

Help the Omentum Gain Momentum!

Most digestive issues are not life-threatening like cancer; however, they do impact quality of life. If you are a cancer survivor living without an omentum, please complete the informal, online survey Cancer Survivors Living Without an Omentum. I will update this post once the survey has more than 100 respondents.

Consult with a Medical Professional

  • If you are experiencing any of the medical issues described above, seek medical advice. The vague symptoms described can be the symptoms of serious medical conditions including ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. It is important to make sure that this suite of vague symptoms is not a sign of something life-threatening.

  • Also, some food allergies will produce this same suite of symptoms.

Links/excerpts r.e. general population & digestive issues:

1. Women v Men with digestive issues:

https://gi.org/topics/common-gi-problems-in-women/

2. New Study Reveals Women May Suffer from Digestive Health Issues in Silence

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-study-reveals-women-may-suffer-from-digestive-health-issues-in-silence-300373970.html

CLEARWATER, Fla., Dec. 7, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- A new survey1 shows that nearly three quarters of women (72 percent) have experienced an occasional digestive/gut issue in the past 12 months, but nearly two in three women (64 percent) aren't willing to talk about gut issues with their friends. Renew Life Ultimate Flora Probiotics is launching the "Get to Know Your Gut" education campaign to put the taboo topic on the table in an effort to educate women about digestive health, how vital its ecosystem is to the body's overall health and well-being, and the benefits everyone can reap from a daily dose of probiotics.

1 This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Renew Life Probiotics from November 9-11, 2016 among 1,127 U.S. women ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables, please contact Katie Young at Katie@pdcpr.net.

3. Survey shows 74 percent of Americans living with GI discomfort

https://www.foxnews.com/health/survey-shows-74-percent-of-americans-living-with-gi-discomfort

A new survey shows 74 percent of Americans are living with uncomfortable digestive symptoms like gas, bloating and abdominal pain. But what they don’t know is they could be a sign of a more serious condition.

“Over half of them never discussed it with their doctor,” said Dr. Rashini Raj, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, on behalf of AbbVie Pharmaceuticals, who commissioned the survey. “And that’s probably the most alarming part for me, because as you know, sometimes this can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition: celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, EPI or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency -- so these are symptoms you shouldn’t ignore, and unfortunately a lot of people don’t feel comfortable talking about them.”

4. New Survey Reveals More than Half of Americans are Living with Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Not Seeking Care from a Doctor

https://news.abbvie.com/news/new-survey-reveals-more-than-half-americans-are-living-with-gastrointestinal-symptoms-and-not-seeking-care-from-doctor.htm

NORTH CHICAGO, Ill., Nov. 6, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- According to a new, national survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, 72 percent said they have experienced at least one of the following gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms a few times a month or more: diarrhea, gas, bloating, stomach pain, frequent bowel movements, unexplained weight-loss and non-specific GI discomfort. Surprisingly, a majority of surveyed participants (74 percent) have lived with their GI symptoms for more than six months. Despite this, more than half (56 percent) of those who have experienced GI discomfort have not spoken with their primary care doctor because they do not believe their symptoms require physician attention.

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