World Ovarian Cancer Day: Time for all women to #KnowAskAct

Approx Reading Time-12Money for ovarian cancer research equals saving women’s lives and this World Ovarian Cancer Day (or Mothers Day, if you will), it’s time to act.


Eighty per cent of Australian women would consider surgically removing their ovaries to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer, if they were found to be carrying the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations, which increases their risk of the disease.

The study, commissioned by Ovarian Cancer Australia, also found that if a family member tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, more than 75 per cent of women would want to know and would consider preventative surgery. This World Ovarian Cancer Day (8 May), which is also Mother’s Day, Ovarian Cancer Australia is urging women to #KnowAskAct.

Ovarian cancer takes the cake when associating the word “cancer” with “death”. Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer. More than 50 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer die within five years.


There’s no screening test for ovarian cancer and in the last 30 years, there have been few advances in our understanding of the disease or treatment options. Women with ovarian cancer have no choice but to use treatments developed in the 1970s. In short, treatments have not progressed since Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister.

Without a screening test, the importance of prevention and symptom awareness is even more critical. The most commonly reported symptoms of ovarian cancer are: abdominal or pelvic pain, increased abdominal size and persistent bloating; needing to urinate often/urgently, feeling full after eating like a bird. If these symptoms are new or unusual and a woman is experiencing one or more of these symptoms persistently over a four week period, she needs to take action.

To complicate things, many women have these symptoms from time to time and are usually a sign of less serious, more common health problems. In fact, when some women visit their GP, it’s likely their symptoms will be dismissed.

But that’s another story.

Knowing your family history is another way women can empower themselves to take charge of their health and reduce their risk of developing ovarian cancer. It’s the only way other than symptom awareness.

I carry the BRCA 1 cancer gene fault, the same one as Angelina Jolie. We are the fortunate ones that get a heads up on our spectacularly good odds of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at a young age. Mind you, it took seven years for this information about our family medical history to reach my sisters and I – due in part to cultural barriers. Keeping your medical history secret is common across a range of ethnicities including various Asian, European, Latino and North American cultural groups. In a multicultural community like Australia, this practice compromises the awareness and understanding of genetics among women.

Not surprisingly, the most frustrating moment in my journey was learning that the only way I could prevent myself from developing ovarian cancer was to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes. As there is no screening test, the only way women with a family history of cancer can put this knowledge to good use is to decide how long to wait before having preventative surgery.

In some cases, this means no time to meet the love of your life.  It means making the decision to become a single mum. It can also mean that BRCA carriers who opt for surgery invite early menopause as well as increasing their risk of coronary heart disease.

Bittersweet, isn’t it? The bottom line is, if there was ever a disease that hasn’t got its fair share of attention, it’s ovarian cancer. Australians have raised 20 times more funds for breast cancer than ovarian cancer.

Current breast cancer statistics show us that a significant investment in research dollars means an improvement in survival rates. Thanks to a breast screen, I was able to have a bilateral mastectomy to prevent myself from developing breast cancer. Without the screening, I would have developed breast cancer in both breasts only two months later.

The government is just as responsible for taking the lead and ensuring appropriate allocation of funding is given to cancers with low survival rates. During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February, the Prime Minister attended Ovarian Cancer Australia’s Teal Ribbon Day breakfast at Parliament House and explained the current Federal Government is the biggest single funder of cancer research in Australia through the National Health and Medical Research Council. Only 5% is allocated to ovarian cancer.

We are compromising women’s contributions to, and impact on, the greater community. We can do better than this. Much better. Don’t wait until you meet a woman with ovarian cancer and hear her explain that she has to choose between mortgaging a house or getting access to expensive medication that will prolong her life by a few months.

The fact of the matter is we aren’t investing enough.

Money for ovarian cancer research equals saving women’s lives. Now you know, it’s time to act.


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