I rise tonight to speak on ovarian cancer, which affects many thousands of Australian women and impacts on the lives of their families and friends. I think this evening’s adjournment debate is a timely opportunity to speak about ovarian cancer quickly—though I do not want to gloss over it; it is a very important issue—because February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which is organised by Ovarian Cancer Australia. The awareness month campaign highlights the symptoms of ovarian cancer and raises funds for the various programs run by Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Unfortunately, the statistics on ovarian cancer are quite grim. We do not know what causes ovarian cancer in all cases, but it can affect women of all ages. This is the point I really want to make tonight: you do not have to be a woman over 50 to be in danger of contracting ovarian cancer. Each year in Australia around 1,400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and more than 1,000 women die from the disease. One of the reasons that this illness has such tragic outcomes is that women are often—I think it is in 75 per cent of cases—diagnosed at an advanced stage, in which the cancer has spread and is difficult to treat successfully. At the moment only 43 per cent of women with ovarian cancer will be alive in five years’ time.
But, if it is diagnosed at an early stage, women have an 80 per cent chance of being alive and well after five years. I am proof of this. Some 20 years ago, when I was in my early 30s, it was discovered that I had the beginnings of ovarian cancer. I had to undergo quite radical surgery, but the disease was caught early and, obviously, I have survived. This is why I say to people that there can be really great outcomes if they catch this disease early. It is so important that we all get behind Ovarian Cancer Awareness month to make women aware of the symptoms of the disease early. The earlier you seek treatment, the greater the chance that the outcome will be happy—and, as I said, I am living proof of that.
It can be difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer. Many women experience similar symptoms to those of the disease from time to time, as they are often also symptoms of less serious and more common health problems. Women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer report four types of symptoms most frequently: abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, the need to urinate often or urgently and feeling full after eating a small amount. There are other symptoms as well, but they are the key four that get reported. I would encourage anyone, if they have such symptoms—especially if they are new for them and if they have experienced them multiple times during the last month—to at least download the Ovarian Cancer Australia symptom diary from the website ovariancancer.net.au. It will help you monitor your symptoms, and then you can take your completed diary to the doctor to assist with diagnosis. It is also available as an app for Apple iPhones, and you can simply go to iTunes app store and search ‘KISS & makeup’.
I would urge anyone who has any concerns to go along and get checked. It is better to go in early and not to have it than to risk a late diagnosis. There are a whole lot of resources available on the ovarian cancer website, including a guide to ovarian cancer, called Resilience; information and support solutions; patient support groups; online forums for those living with the disease; information on treatment and clinical trials; an online forum for families and friends; fact sheets; links to important information; and a whole lot more. The resources include the personal stories of women who are living with or who have lived with the disease. While each woman’s journey with ovarian cancer is different, these stories will allow people to gain a greater understanding of what is involved in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Ovarian Cancer Australia supports and promotes excellence in ovarian cancer research nationally. Tomorrow night at parliament house there is non-partisan event hosted by Gai Brodtmann, Kelly O’Dwyer and Sarah Hansen-Young. I urge all senators and members to go along to it and make a donation. Ovarian Cancer Australia is aiming to raise $500,000 from 500 community events over this month alone. It is a female-only event, but to all members of the parliament I say: please try to make sure you attend this event.