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  1. Lockwood-Rayermann, Suzy PhD, MSN, RN
  2. Donovan, Heidi S. PhD, RN
  3. Rambo, David MSN, CRNP, PMHNP-BC
  4. Kuo, Chien-Wen J. BS


Background: The vast majority of cases of ovarian cancer are diagnosed at stage III or IV, and five-year survival rates after diagnosis at these stages are 71% and 31%, respectively. Although a consensus among researchers on the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer has evolved over time, whether women themselves know them isn't clear.


Objective: To assess how well informed women ages 40 and older are of ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors.


Methods: In 2006 the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition developed an online survey with a private research firm that asked respondents about their familiarity with ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors. Women were also asked whether they thought the Papanicolaou test diagnosed ovarian cancer (a common misconception) and whether they had discussed ovarian cancer with a physician. If they had discussed the issue, they were asked who had initiated the conversation. Data from a convenience sample of 1,235 responses to the online survey were analyzed, using descriptive and comparative statistics. Respondents were categorized by age, education level, race or ethnicity, and whether or not they knew someone with ovarian cancer. Comparisons were made to determine whether demographic factors were associated with women's knowledge of specific symptoms and risk factors associated with ovarian cancer.


Results: Only 15% of respondents were familiar with ovarian cancer symptoms, and more than two-thirds incorrectly believed that the Papanicolaou test diagnoses the disease. Four out of five had never had a conversation with a physician about symptoms and risk factors; among these, more than half assumed that because their physician had not initiated such a discussion, ovarian cancer was "not an issue." Of the 19% of women who'd had such discussions, two-thirds had initiated them themselves. Respondents were more knowledgeable about risk factors; 59% correctly identified personal or family history of breast, ovarian, or colon cancer, and half of respondents correctly identified genetic predisposition, as risk factors.


Conclusions: Awareness of ovarian cancer symptoms and risk factors among women in the general population is low. Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed at late stages, when cure is difficult; consequently, heightening women's awareness of risk factors and symptoms might help to reduce delays in diagnosis. Nurses should provide women with specific information on symptoms and risk factors in educating them on ovarian cancer.