January 3, 2007 | By: Carol Lea Spence
LEXINGTON, KY.

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, some are trivial – resolving to hang up your clothes, for instance – while others can be life-changing. For women over 50 or with a history of ovarian cancer in their family, resolving to participate in the Ovarian Cancer Screening Research Program at the University of Kentucky might very well fit into the latter category.

“Ovarian cancer is such a silent killer,” said Edith Lovett, family and consumer sciences agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service in Cumberland County. “You can have ovarian cancer and never know it, and by the time you find out it’s just really serious.”

“The idea behind the study is to prove that screening detects early cancers and saves lives,” said Dr. Edward J. Pavlik, director of the Ovarian Cancer Screening Research Program, the only study of its kind in the nation.

Since its inception in 1988, the program has screened more than 26,000 participants by transvaginal ultrasound. Out of 130,000 screenings, 400 tumors have been detected and death due to ovarian cancer has been markedly reduced in the group screened, as compared to the general population.

“Basically there’s biological onset of disease and then there’s symptoms onset,” Pavlik said. “What we’re attempting to do is detect the cancer between these,” thus improving the chance for survival.

For that reason Lovett, other FCS agents and members of the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association around the state work hard to make women aware of the benefits of this simple and free test offered by UK’s Markey Cancer Center. From collecting an extra dollar from Homemakers’ dues each year, to holding fundraisers, to transporting women from all over the state to Lexington or local outreach centers to get the annual test, Extension has made the battle against ovarian cancer a personal one. In fact, Homemakers’ commitment to the cause predates the 1988 beginning of the screening program by 10 years. René Siria, state president of Homemakers said they started contributing to research projects at UK in 1978.

“Our membership has gone down over the last 28 years, but our contributions have gone up because a lot of counties and areas have been doing special events and things to raise additional money,” she said.

As Homemakers president, Siria has challenged the group to reach $1 million in donations to the screening program by 2008, the 75th anniversary of Extension Homemakers. To date they have raised $885,550 through donations and fundraisers.

Pavlik said that the program, which has annual costs of approximately $1 million, has benefited from its relationship with the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association.

“The real contribution of the KEHA is participation,” he said. “I wouldn't be surprised if 30 to 50 percent of all of the 28,000 participants have been KEHA members, but I don't track this. It is just my impression or guess.”

Pavlik said one of the reasons for the high level of participation is due to the efforts of “certain family and consumer agents that are absolutely heroic in their continuing efforts to bring participants to screening.”

Ann Bradley, family and consumer sciences Extension agent in Letcher County, has been transporting vanloads of women to Lexington for screening since 1990. She makes the 6-hour round trip from Letcher County to Lexington with more than 200 women each year. The trips are open to everyone, not just members of Homemakers.

“Local doctors and the local health department refer people to the program,” she said. “I don’t ever like to turn anybody down. We’re just far enough away that a lot of ladies won’t just go on their own, but they like to go with a group and have the screening done.”

For those women who can’t make the long trip to Lexington, five outreach centers have been set up in Maysville, Prestonsburg, Somerset, Elizabethtown and Paducah. The centers are open once a month in Maysville, three days a month in Prestonsburg, Elizabethtown and Paducah, and twice a month in Somerset.

“The outreach program was designed for those women who maybe didn’t have a car that was that dependable or couldn’t get off from work,” Pavlik said.

Extension Homemaker Ann Boatwright was a driving force in working with Dr. Pavlik to establish these mobile screening units. Boatwright, herself, did not participate in the screenings. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after the disease had progressed too far to be cured. She became a strong advocate for the program. Siria remembers the last convention Boatwright attended before her death from the disease.

“The speech she gave at the convention – the last one she came to – was ‘Ladies, I was stupid. I should have been doing this and maybe I wouldn’t be suffering like this,’” Siria said.

“She was quite a vocal and loud supporter of it (the screening program) when she realized she had made a mistake, herself,” she said. “A lot of people bring her up as someone to admire, because she clearly encouraged a lot more people to get involved.”

Pavlik remembers Boatwright as a “really powerful, strong woman,” whose efforts in creating the mobile units helped to bring more women into the program.

The screening program wins high praise from agents such as Bradley, who says they’ve been blessed to be part of it.

“They’re making a great program,” she said. “Aside from the medical benefits, it’s an emotionally up-building program and psychologically and every way. They make the ladies who come feel good about themselves.”

Pavlik said they have no plans to end the study, which is now in its 18th year.

“We want women to know that we’ll never be saying to them that they should stop coming,” he said. “The only reason for them to stop coming is if they no longer have ovaries. So once you’re in the study, it’s something that you can do annually until you’re 120 years old.”

For more information about the UK Ovarian Cancer Screening Research Program, talk to your local county Extension family and consumer sciences agent, visit the screening program’s Web site at http://clik.to/ovary or call 800-766-8279.

Contact: 

Dr. Edward Pavlik, 859-223-8158, Ann Bradley, 606-633-2362, Edith Lovett, 270-864-2681, René Siria, 502-848-4299