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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2162

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (16:40): I rise today to support the member for Shortland's motion to the House marking 29 February as Teal Ribbon Day as well as the month of February being a month of ovarian cancer awareness. It is an issue of great public importance not only to the people of my electorate but also to the broader Australian community, so I do welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion.

Teal Ribbon Day is an opportunity for us to remember those women who have been lost to ovarian cancer as well as to support those who are still fighting the disease. I want to take this opportunity to remember one of our own, the late Senator Jeannie Ferris, who passed away some years ago from ovarian cancer. Jeannie and I became good friends while we were involved in the Inter Parliamentary Union and I was very fond of her, so I just wanted to remember her today.

Ovarian cancer places an incredible burden on the lives of the many Australian women and their families and it is often incorrectly referred to as a silent disease. We do know now that in fact ovarian cancer has some very clear symptoms and as the Director of Ovarian Cancer Australia, Ms Paula Benson—herself a survivor of ovarian cancer—highlights:

Scientific evidence has shown that many women do experience symptoms that, if acted on, could result in an earlier diagnosis and a better chance of beating the disease.

With this in mind, Teal Ribbon Day is very much about busting the myths surrounding ovarian cancer, myths which explain why less than a third of women correctly diagnose the most common risk factors relating to this condition. The other more than two-thirds who are diagnosed at an advanced stage are diagnosed at a time when successful treatment is very difficult. Women are always very busy, we have got lots of commitments—our work, our families, our very frantic lifestyle—and we tend to ignore symptoms. The message is very clear that we need to listen to our bodies and to learn—as the member for Shortland quite correctly suggested—that there are symptoms that are now known to be very much indicators of possible ovarian cancer. What is vital with this form of cancer, and what is not often known, is that there are no screening tests. We have said that before and we need to keep saying this—that there are no screening tests—so it becomes very important that we learn to identify the symptoms for ourselves and visit our doctors if we are not sure about some of the symptoms that we are experiencing.

We are lucky to be living in a country which has built a formidable foundation of research and treatment programs for the overall benefit of Australian women, but today's message in relation to ovarian cancer is that research is still pretty much at an early stage and that more work needs to be done in order to help women deal with the disease and to also be more aware of it. In an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study in 2010, ovarian cancer was shown to be the fourth leading cancer cause of burden of disease for females, causing nearly 30,000 disability adjusted life-years for women—it is a large number. I know breast cancer is one of the major killers of women, but ovarian cancer is up there in the top five as well.

In my electorate I participate in many events that are aimed at promoting awareness and introducing and teaching women about preventive measures so that we can ensure that, as a member of parliament, the women I represent are able to understand and prioritise their health. Women, especially those with families and children, are almost the central core element of their families and they are also active participants in the broader community, and that is why women tend often to overlook their own health. If we think of anything tomorrow, it is that we need to put ourselves first from time to time and to pay attention to what our body is telling us. In my electorate, I have a very large non-English speaking community and I make a very big effort to ensure that all information is made available to women in languages other than English because if we are conveying a message we need to be sure that our women can understand it and read it.