A survey by SoonerPoll.com on behalf of Ovarian Cancer Awareness indicates many Oklahoma women are confused about known risk factors for ovarian cancer as well as which medical tests can help detect ovarian cancer.
The study also revealed that respondents were unfamiliar with several symptoms of ovarian cancer.
“It’s not surprising that we are finding some of these results,” said Anna Schlichting, organizer of Anna’s Belles, Oklahoma’s only ovarian cancer support group. “Symptoms of ovarian cancer are so vague, it’s easy to attribute them to other conditions.”
When asked about known risk factors, two in three women polled said “family or personal history of cancer,” however only 22 percent of respondents said “being over the age of 50” which is also a known risk factor.
Interestingly, two practices which are known to decrease risk, “taking oral contraceptives for more than five years” and “having multiple pregnancies,” were indicated by 24 and 13 percent respondents respectively as known risk factors.
“There are certainly some risks with taking oral contraceptives, but studies are showing the benefits of protecting women against ovarian cancer far outweigh those risks,” said Schlichting.
When the women were asked to indicate medical tests that can help detect ovarian cancer in the early stage, a 56.3 percent majority of women said ”Pap smear,” which is a medical test used to detect cervical cancer but not ovarian cancer. Another 2.3 percent of women polled said “mammogram,” which is a medical test that detects breast cancer, but, again, does not detect ovarian cancer.
“Unfortunately, women assume that by going for their yearly exams, they are being tested for things like ovarian cancer,” said Schlichting. “But when it comes to this disease, you have to demand additional testing from your doctor to prove you do not have it – especially if you are experiencing any of the symptoms. Early detection increases your chances of survival to 92 percent, so it could literally save your life.”
Two other tests which can sometimes detect ovarian cancer, “a transvaginal ultrasound” and “CA 125,” were mentioned by 21 and 12.3 percent of women respectively. Only 11 percent of women said “there is no test that can be used for early detection,” the answer doctors say is most correct.
“There is no true test for ovarian cancer at this time,” said Schlichting. “The ultrasound and CA 125 are the closest we have.”
According to the poll, some symptoms are more well-known than others. “Pelvic and/or abdominal pain” was the only symptom which a majority, 56 percent, of women indicated. “Bloating,” “urinary symptoms” and “difficulty eating or feeling full quickly” were only indicated by 40, 27 and 23 percent of respondent s respectively, though all three are symptoms.
“They used to say ovarian cancer was a silent killer, but the truth is, it whispers,” said Schlichting. “Obviously, if you are feeling abdominal pain, that is a clear sign from your body that something is wrong. But if you are suddenly experiencing a combination of these other symptoms, these are also signs that you need get checked out. You know your body better than anyone, so listen to it.”
SoonerPoll.com, Oklahoma’s public opinion pollster, was commissioned for this poll by Ovarian Cancer Awareness. SoonerPoll.com conducted the scientific poll July 25-Aug. 11. Likely Oklahoma women voters were selected at random and given the opportunity to participate in the poll by phone or online. The study was administered to 300 women and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.7 percentage points.