Tonight I rise to speak about a subject that is very near to my heart and that affects many women in the Australian community, and that is ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is a disease we hear little about, but it causes great heartache in our community, affecting the lives of many. For a disease that so often flies under the public radar, the facts surrounding the prevalence of ovarian cancer are quite staggering. Every 11 hours an Australian woman will die from ovarian cancer, three Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every day and on average one in 77 Australian women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime. I have been one of those women
Some 20 years ago, at the age of 32, I was undergoing surgery and it was discovered that I had the beginnings of ovarian cancer. Obviously I had to undergo some much more radical surgery, but I am very pleased, of course, and proud to say that I am a survivor. It was probably the first time that I had had such a dramatic illness, but I did recover fully and I am one of the lucky ones. Unfortunately, with ovarian cancer that is very often not the case. It is a particularly aggressive form of cancer, and 800 Australian women—mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters—lose the battle against this insidious disease each year. Beyond the suffering of the individuals affected by the disease is the suffering of families and communities, the loved ones of those with the disease who have to deal with the trauma of their suffering and, in many cases, their loss.
There are a number of factors that are considered to increase the risk of ovarian cancer. These include: being over the age of 45, although girls as young as seven have been diagnosed with the disease and, as I said, I was only 32; never having taken the contraceptive pill; never having been pregnant, or having only few pregnancies; having a high-fat diet, smoking and being overweight—and I am afraid some of those do apply to me; a history of cancer in the family; and being of Ashkenazi Jewish decent. One of the most tragic aspects of ovarian cancer is that there is no early detection test. A pap smear test does not screen for ovarian cancer. A number of tests can be performed that can suggest if ovarian cancer is a possibility, including the CA-125 test and a transvaginal ultrasound. However, these tests cannot be used to screen for or diagnose ovarian cancer and the disease can only be confirmed at the point of surgery.
The first indication that most ovarian cancer patients have that they have the disease is when symptoms start to appear. If discovered early, a majority of women affected will be alive after five years; however, 75 per cent of women diagnosed with the disease are diagnosed at an advanced stage. It is therefore vital that Australian women familiarise themselves with the symptoms of the disease, and consult their doctor if symptoms appear. The four most common symptoms of the disease are: increased abdominal size or persistent bloating; unexplained abdominal or pelvic pain; difficulty eating or feeling full quickly; and needing to urinate often or urgently, or a change in bowel habits. Other symptoms include: vague but persistent stomach upsets such as wind, nausea, heartburn or indigestion; vaginal bleeding; weight loss or weight gain; and excessive fatigue.
February marks Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. That is why I stand tonight to speak on this issue. It is a community health initiative of Ovarian Cancer Australia, a national not-for-profit organisation that provides support and advocacy for those affected by ovarian cancer and is the peak national body for awareness and prevention of the disease. Ovarian Cancer Australia serves a number of vital functions: to support women with ovarian cancer, their family, friends and carers with compassionate support programs, and practical resources; to educate communities and individuals about the disease and increase their awareness of symptoms and the latest treatment, research, and clinical trials from across Australia; and to advocate to improve outcomes, treatment and quality of life for women with ovarian cancer.
Ovarian Cancer Australia’s major fundraising and awareness event is the Teal Ribbon Day. Held on 23 February, it is an opportunity for members of the community to support Ovarian Cancer Australia, and those suffering with the disease, by wearing a teal ribbon. Tax deductible teal ribbons are available from Chemmart, Spotlight and Napoleon Perdis or can be purchased online from http://www.ovariancancer.net.au, or ordered by phone by calling 1300 660 334. In conjunction with the Teal Ribbon Day, Ovarian Cancer Australia are urging people to hold an ‘Afternoon Teal’, an afternoon tea event which seeks to raise awareness of, and to raise funds to fight against, ovarian cancer. Ovarian Cancer Australia’s ‘Afternoon Teal’ event provides an opportunity for businesses, social groups and community groups of all persuasions to become more aware of ovarian cancer, while raising funds. Awareness posters and brochures for the ‘Afternoon Teal’ event are also available through the website I just mentioned.
These fundraising activities by Ovarian Cancer Australia are vital to funding their awareness programs and support services that help both patients and their families. These programs and services include: community awareness campaigns and campaign materials; resilience kits—a free resource for women with ovarian cancer; support groups that provide an opportunity for women with ovarian cancer to discuss common issues, share stories, gain more information, and receive emotional support to help cope with their diagnosis and treatment; a rural and regional telesupport service; an online forum where women can discuss their experiences of the disease; and support materials for families and friends of women affected by ovarian cancer.
I appeal to all my fellow parliamentarians to support this worthy cause and raise awareness and funds through holding an ‘Afternoon Teal’ event, wearing a teal ribbon on Teal Ribbon Day, or simply by discussing the symptoms of ovarian cancer with your friends. Who knows whose life they may be saving?