Awareness of ovarian cancer risk factors, beliefs and attitudes towards screening

Awareness of ovarian cancer risk factors, beliefs and attitudes towards screening: baseline survey of 21 715 women participating in the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening

Background:Women’s awareness of ovarian cancer (OC) risks, their attitudes towards and beliefs about screening, together with misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge, may influence screening uptake.

Methods:  In total, 21 715 post-menopausal women completed questionnaires before randomisation into the UK Collaborative Trial of Ovarian Cancer Screening.Results:In all, 42.3% correctly identified their lifetime risk of OC; 87.1% knew that a family history of OC increased risk, but only 26.7% appreciated the association with a family history of breast cancer. Although 38.2% acknowledged increased risk post-menopause, only 8.8% were aware that OC diagnoses are highest in women over 65 years. Few (13.7%) recognised the association between pregnancy and reduced OC risk or protective effects of breastfeeding (6.2%).

There were common misconceptions; 37.2% thought that an abnormal cervical smear and 26.4% that oral contraception increased the likelihood of OC. Although 84.4% recognised that most ovarian masses are benign, 20.2% thought having had a benign cyst increased OC risk. Most (99.4%) believed that a high uptake of OC screening would reduce mortality and (96.2%) that screen-detected cancers would have an improved prognosis.

Conclusions:  The results show a need for improved public understanding about OC risks and provide important information for GPs and health educationalists about initiatives needed for future awareness, prevention and screening programmes.

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