No more 'too lates'

No more ‘too lates’

Doctoral student working to improve care, detection for women with ovarian cancer

By Paige Parrinelli

Tanika VivienTanika L. Vivien, M.S., considers herself to be a curious person.

“My colleagues are impressed that I always look at something from a different angle,” said Vivien, a nursing instructor at the University of South Florida and a doctoral student within UF’s College of Nursing. 

She believes this desire to always know the “how” and “why”
of a situation is what led her to conduct her current research involving women and ovarian cancer. 

Vivien said she was inspired to do her research after hearing multiple stories from friends, family and colleagues about cases where patients discovered their ovarian cancer too late and were not able to get treatment. One of these cases involved a woman whose only symptom was feeling bloated. The woman was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died as a result of the disease.

“Women don’t know what’s wrong,” Vivien said. “They’re not communicating and are receiving late diagnoses.”

Vivien is in the process of writing a literature review on three main topics surrounding ovarian cancer. The first topic is awareness. Awareness of ovarian cancer is unusually low for health care providers and their patients, compared with other cancer types, she said.

“For 40 years there has not been an improvement in the ovarian cancer death rate among women,” Vivien said. 

The second topic is improving detection. The only way for ovarian cancer to be detected is if a patient speaks up about symptoms. Ovarian cancer is problematic because many of its symptoms, which include pain, bloating and fatigue, are typical of other conditions. On top of that, ovarian cancer can only be detected with either a biopsy or an ultrasound. Because of this, many patients do not get diagnosed in time.

Early detection is especially important since it increases the chances of a patient surviving.  Vivien said early detection increases survivorship from 44 percent to 94 percent.

The final topic is communication, which Vivien said is incredibly important for ovarian cancer detection. Ovarian cancer often runs in families, so it is important for individuals to check with family members to see if they have a family history of the disease. 

“It’s a hard conversation to have, but it’s important to have,” Vivien said. 

Another part of Vivien’s research involves creating focus groups and awareness literature for health care providers and their patients. She hopes to use this to make health care providers more aware of ovarian cancer and increase the likelihood of detection.

This fall and spring, Vivien will work with focus groups of ovarian cancer survivors. She’ll record information about how they felt when they first started having symptoms and what could possibly be done to improve awareness of the disease. 

Vivien hopes to use the information from the patient focus group to create an awareness tool that can be used by all women to help spread understanding about ovarian cancer. 

“I’m trying to bring hope to make a change,” she said.