If you’ve passed by Old Parliament House after dark this month, you might have noticed that the wedding cake had turned a distinct shade of green. The colour is in fact teal, and the façade was been lit up in honour of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
Ovarian cancer was once known as a silent killer, because it is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Many women are under the misapprehension that a pap-smear tests for ovarian cancer as well as cervical cancer – this isn’t the case. There is no early detection test, and the symptoms of ovarian cancer are fairly regularly experienced by women from time to time - generally associated with other minor health problems.
This means that that by the time most women are diagnosed, their cancer is in an advanced state and very difficult to treat successfully. More than half of the women diagnosed at this stage will not live for five years after their diagnosis.
However, ovarian cancer is not as silent as we once thought it was. Women who are diagnosed overwhelming report having experienced four symptoms in the lead up to their diagnosis:
1. Increased abdominal size or persistent bloating
2. Unexplained abdominal or pelvic pain
3. Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
4. Needing to urinate often or urgently or a change in bowel habits
On their own, these symptoms might seem minor. However, if they persist over a four week period, you should speak to your doctor. There will most likely be another, simple explanation as to why you’re experiencing these symptoms, but if it is ovarian cancer, you’ll be much better off having found it early. In fact, if found in the early stages, up to 95% of women will be alive and well after five years.
I am the first to admit that I wasn’t aware of the symptoms before I became involved with Ovarian Cancer Australia. It was ACT Senator Kate Lundy who invited me to my first ovarian cancer fundraiser, and I was so impressed by the level of activism from women and men who had lost a mother, sister, aunt or friend to this disease. In the face of their grief they had put their energy into fundraising and awareness raising, which I found incredibly courageous.
I was also surprised to learn that there were four easily identifiable symptoms, and to learn how significant a difference it makes to survival rates if women are aware of the symptoms, and see their doctor as soon as they occur.
So, when Ovarian Cancer Australia asked me to become the first ambassador for the ACT, I jumped at the chance, and I have now made it my mission to ensure all Canberra women are aware of these four symptoms.
Women are notorious for ignoring their own health concerns - we are generally too busy taking care of everyone else. So it’s easy to understand why we ignore these symptoms when they might seem relatively minor. But, being aware of these symptoms and taking action if they arise can ultimately save lives.
This month, I ask you to learn these four symptoms, and encourage all the women in your life to do the same. And, should they arise, remember to ask your doctor – could it be my ovaries?
Gai Brodtmann is the Federal Member for Canberra, and Ovarian Cancer Australia’s Ambassador for the ACT.
The Ovarian Cancer Australia website has a range of resources on ovarian cancer, including a symptom diary. Visit www.ovariancancer.net.au for more information.