Standing up for Canberra

Ovarian Cancer 2016

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I thank the member for Shortland for moving this important motion, as she has done in previous years, and for her ongoing work in this area over a number of years. As the ACT's Ovarian Cancer Australia ambassador I am proud to be involved in raising awareness of ovarian cancer in Australia. February, as we have heard, is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It is a time to promote awareness of the disease and to encourage Australians to raise funds for vital research.

We have heard from the member for Shortland and we have heard very moving and personal stories from the members for Lindsay and Ballarat about how ovarian cancer has touched their lives and affected the people they love and know. What is unusual is that there are probably not many of us whose lives have not been touched by ovarian cancer—through a friend, a workmate or a family member—yet awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer is so limited. Part of this exercise is to raise awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer, because currently there is no reliable early detection test or screening program. Each year more than 1,400 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and around 100 will die from the disease. On average, three Australian women are diagnosed every day and one Australian woman dies every eight hours. These are shocking statistics, and that is why this month I will be joining all my colleagues to campaign in our electorates: to talk to women about the symptoms, to raise awareness of the symptoms and, importantly, to raise funds.

A major part of the problem with ovarian cancer is the late stage at which most women are diagnosed. The prognosis for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is generally poor because they are diagnosed at a very advanced stage of the cancer. In fact, more than half these women will not live for five years after their diagnosis. But if ovarian cancer is found in the early stages up to 95 per cent of women will be alive and well after five years. Ovarian cancer often goes unchecked because the symptoms are some that many women face from time to time and are often symptoms of less serious and more common health problems. The key to early diagnosis, to being one of those 95 per cent of women who will be alive and well after five years, is to know the symptoms and to see your doctor if they arise. Almost all women are diagnosed with four symptoms: abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating, needing to urinate often or regularly and urgently, and feeling full after eating a small amount. This February I ask everyone here in this chamber and in the parliament to learn these symptoms off by heart. Make sure your wives, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, daughters and friends know these symptoms too.

As well as learning and keeping watch for these symptoms there is one more thing that we can do to ensure early diagnosis—that is, to know and talk about our family history. A recent national study of 16,000 Australians, commissioned by Ovarian Cancer Australia, found that 44 per cent of Australians with a history of breast and/or ovarian cancer in their family have not spoken to their doctor about their family history. This is despite the fact that up to one in five occurrences of ovarian cancer are an inherited form of the disease, often attributed to the BRCA1 or the BRCA2 gene mutations that increase a woman's risk of developing ovarian cancer. It is imperative that Australian women know their family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer and discuss it with their GP this month. This will ensure that their GP can give an appropriate evaluation of their risk of inheriting ovarian cancer. If a GP is aware of a patient's family history of ovarian and breast cancer, together with the patient they can make more informed decisions about monitoring, genetic testing and preventive measures. This can enable a more timely diagnosis and a better chance of survival.

My message this February is to know the symptoms and to know your family history. Ovarian Cancer Australia relies on the generous support of the community to help fund research programs and support services for women diagnosed and their families. I commend their work and I ask all Australians to know those four symptoms.

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