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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 185


Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (12:00): I join with members on both sides of the House in congratulating and thanking the member for Shortland for moving this motion with respect to ovarian cancer. This is an insidious issue which confronts many women and which needs greater awareness publicly. There is no doubt that, when we talk about many health issues, often they are raised in the context of men—men are hopeless at understanding the nature of problems that they have; they are unlikely to go to a doctor; they do not understand symptoms. In those circumstances, often by the time they find themselves diagnosed, the condition that they have, and it often is a cancer, is much further down the track and therefore much harder to deal with and, hopefully, cure.

In this case, we are dealing with a situation that relates to women's health. Ovarian cancer has a series of symptoms which are common but which need to be better understood. However, in that context, it does not have an early detection mechanism which allows it to be found at early stages. That creates the real tragedy of ovarian cancer, which is that many women do not know they have it and, by the time they are diagnosed, it is so far down the track that it has moved elsewhere within the body and the likelihood of successful treatment and a longer and productive life is greatly reduced. In Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we really need to get out there and ensure that women understand the nature of this disease and the symptoms of this disease so that more women can be diagnosed earlier and therefore, hopefully, receive the treatment that they need.

Also, going on from that, when we look at the detection mechanisms that are in place, such as mammograms for breast cancer or Pap smears for cervical cancer, there is a need for more ongoing research into ovarian cancer to ensure that we understand this condition better and, through that process, establish mechanisms which can be used for early detection. That requires a commitment to research. There is some good research going on, but it needs to be supported and it needs to be funded to ensure that this condition receives the analysis and research that it deserves.

Ovarian cancer is the growth of malignant cells in one or both ovaries and is often accompanied by the spread of malignant cells to surrounding organs in the abdominal cavity. Whilst a small number of cases appear to have an underlying genetic component, in most cases the causes of ovarian cancer are unknown. Ovarian cancer, although it does occur in younger women, is more common in women over the age of 50. Around 15 per cent of ovarian cancer cases in Australia are hereditary. It has the lowest survival rate of any women's cancer. Its five-year survival rate is well below the average for all cancers. As has been mentioned by other speakers, each year more than 1,400 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and approximately 1,000 women die from the disease. That overall five-year survival rate that I mentioned occurs in only around 43 per cent of cases, and that compares with a breast cancer survival rate of something like 89 per cent.

Ensuring that people are aware of the circumstances around it and its symptoms is very important. The symptoms are: abdominal or pelvic pain; increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating; the need to urinate urgently or often; and feeling full after eating only a small amount. It is incredibly important that women are aware of these symptoms and understand what they might mean, because only then will they actually be able to get the testing they need to establish whether or not they have this condition. The fact is—and we know it to be the case—with this condition particularly, as with many cancers, the earlier you get to it, the greater the chance of survival. The earlier you get to it, the greater the chance of a long and productive life.

With those few words, I urge everyone to get behind Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month to ensure that Australian women better understand this condition and the impact that it may have on their families and their lives.