Adjournment Speech - Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month 2016

I rise today in support of Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. This February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and we are all encouraged recognise the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer, to know their family history and to know how to get help.

There is a lot of publicity given to diseases and other forms of cancer- but despite the fact that ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer in women, it often gets overlooked.

Approximately 1,500 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year and around 1,000 daughters, mothers, sisters, aunties and friends are taken from us each year in Australia.

It is a truly devastating disease and these are shocking statistics indeed.

Ovarian cancer currently has a five-year survival rate of 43%. In order to make a difference to that survival rate we need awareness. To raise awareness we need to keep talking about ovarian cancer.

I have spoken many times about how important it is to be familiar with the symptoms of ovarian cancer, but I am going to run through them again, because as I said, we need to keep talking about it. We can never, ever talk about these symptoms enough.

Some of the most common symptoms are: abdominal or pelvic pain; abdominal bloating; needing to urinate often or urgently; and, finally, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly.

A huge part of the problem is that these symptoms are very common, and are not symptoms that many women associate with ovarian cancer.

This is why ovarian cancer often goes unchecked and this is why ovarian cancer is often only detected at a later and more advanced stage.

This is also why you hear people say that ovarian cancer is a silent disease.

But when you take a close look and start talking about it you will see that it really isn’t a silent disease at all, because most women diagnosed with ovarian cancer report experiencing the identifiable key symptoms I just mentioned.

These are symptoms that shouldn’t be ignored or silenced.

As I said, the prognosis for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is generally poor due to it only being detected at an advanced stage.

And the reason it is only usually detected in an advanced stage is because there is currently no screening for ovarian cancer in Australia.

Only 47% of the general population are aware that ovarian cancer is symptomatic, which is why recognising the symptoms is crucial to an earlier diagnosis, prevention and survival.

If women experience any of the symptoms over time, or if they persist for more than two weeks, they should see their doctor as quickly as possible.

We must not ignore any symptoms or pass them off as discomfort or another ailment. Understanding and awareness of the symptoms is absolutely crucial to the early detection of ovarian cancer.

As women we need to improve our confidence in our ability to know about ovarian cancer and to recognise and act upon the symptoms.

We need to empower ourselves by knowing our family history and having open and early discussions with our doctor.

And because your GP is the first point of call, it is just as important for our doctor’s to be more aware of the symptoms so that they can improve the pathway to an earlier diagnosis and referral.

A recent survey conducted by Ovarian Cancer Australia reported lower satisfaction levels when it came to patient care and early diagnosis. The survey also highlighted that women were frustrated with the number of GP and emergency room visits they had to make before finally being diagnosed.

A number of women also said that their symptoms were not initially recognised by their GP as relating to ovarian cancer and were therefore seeking a second opinion.

One woman was recorded saying that she’d visited her GP more than 3 times but he kept on insisting that she had IBS. Then she went to another GP who discovered that she had an enlarged uterus…

Another woman said that she saw one doctor 4 times who just kept telling her to eat more fibre- and not once did he examine her.

It is absolutely vital that GPs and health professionals are better trained in identifying the symptoms, and are proactive to ensure a fast diagnosis. And it is equally as important for women to have the confidence to seek a second opinion if they are uncomfortable with the initial outcome.

In the absence of an early detection test, we must all know the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and our family history.

We need to elevate this cause, not just here in this place but with our constituencies, within our friendship groups and community networks, to raise awareness of ovarian cancer every single day.

Because we can never talk about Ovarian Cancer too much.