Standing up for Canberra

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month 2015

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and I thank and commend the member for Shortland for her motion and her continued work in this area over a number of years. As the ACT Ovarian Cancer Australia ambassador, I am proud to be involved in raising awareness of ovarian cancer in Australia. As we all know, February 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 do not know what causes Ovarian Cancer, and sadly there is currently no reliable early detection test or screening program. The Pap smear does not detect ovarian cancer. I know from the many speeches I have made on this issue, over the years since I have been an ambassador, that this is a common misconception. There are a lot of women out there who think that the Pap smear picks up ovarian cancer. The message to them is: it does not. I know that they come away quite stunned by the fact that the Pap smear is not designed to detect ovarian cancer.

We all know what the Pap smear is designed to detect, but ovarian cancer is not it. So they come away and are usually quite surprised. They think that they have got everything covered. They go and get their Pap smear done; they have got everything covered. Unfortunately, because there is no early detection mechanism for ovarian cancer, it is not.

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 campaigning in my electorate, talking to women about the symptoms, raising awareness, and, importantly, raising funds. And also, again, I will be addressing that misconception about the Pap smear.

A major part of the problem with ovarian cancer is the late stage at which the cancer is detected and most women are diagnosed. The prognosis for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is generally poor due to the 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 ones that many women will face from time to time—they are quite common—and they are often symptoms of less serious and more common health problems. The key to early diagnosis is to know the symptoms and see your doctor if they arise. Almost all women diagnosed report four symptoms. A number of the speakers who have been speaking on this motion today have highlighted these, but we have to etch them in our minds. We women, we friends of women, we sisters of women—we need to etch these in our brains. They are: abdominal or pelvic pain; increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating; needing to urinate often or urgently; and feeling full after eating a small amount. This February, I ask everyone to learn these symptoms and make sure your wives, your mothers, your sisters, your daughters and friends know these symptoms too.

During my time as the ACT Ovarian Cancer Australia ambassador, I have met so many brave Canberrans who have lost a loved one to ovarian cancer, and who, in the face of their grief, dedicate themselves to raising funds for ovarian cancer research and raising awareness of this disease. In 2013 I helped launch the Capital Cookbook II, a tribute from a son to a mother whose life was cut short by ovarian cancer, and I again publicly congratulate the book's writer, Stefan, on this magnificent achievement. He is still out there selling these books. You still see him down at the Kingston market once a month on a Sunday. He is an extraordinary young man, a very talented Canberran, and this is such a significant and moving tribute to his mother.

To the many others in the community who have been affected by ovarian cancer: you are not alone in your fight, as is evident here in the chamber today. We will stand together on all sides of politics and support you. Ovarian Cancer Australia relies on the generous support of the community to help fund research programs and support services for women diagnosed, as well as their families. I ask everyone to get behind Teal Ribbon Day, the primary fundraising and awareness day for Ovarian Cancer Australia, which is coming up on 25 February. Let's get women talking about ovarian cancer and its symptoms, and let's get out there in the community to raise funds and raise awareness.

Download a copy of this speech.