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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2161

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (16:36): I rise to speak on this motion today as we acknowledge February as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I thank the member for Shortland for bringing this important issue to the attention of the parliament in the hope that it will raise awareness of the symptoms so we may better pre-empt this terrible disease. For women in Australia, ovarian cancer is the most common cause of gynaecological cancer death. Most alarmingly, the number of ovarian cancer cases has increased by 47 per cent between 1982 and 2006. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare predicts the number of cases will continue to rise in the future. Unfortunately, this cancer is very rarely identified or diagnosed in the preliminary, and therefore more treatable, stages. As with many cancers, it is absolutely imperative that women with a familial history undergo early screening. But, due to current limitations in technology and understanding of the aetiology of this cancer, the imperfect screening methods still fail to pick up many cases.

The Queensland Institute of Medical Research has found early diagnosis, either through pelvic examinations, the CA125 or biomarker blood tests or ultrasounds, do not result in reduced mortality rates. Screening programs by the United Nations World Health Organisation and the Australian Population Based Screening Framework have been developed. However, it notes that we are unable to specifically target a tumour in the ovaries until there are recognisable symptoms. Add to this the commonality of many of the symptoms, all of which can be attributed to other less serious or more common illnesses, and you have a very difficult situation. Ovarian Cancer Australia is working hard to provide resources for women, including a symptoms diary, which helps track what would otherwise be unexplained, persistent symptoms so that they are better prepared to discuss them with their doctor.

The first step after diagnosis is a laparotomy, where as much as possible of the tumour is removed. Chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy then follow. There is a particular distinction in the growth and spread of ovarian cancer which can make the cancer cells acquire resistance to the normally prescribed drugs. Unfortunately, this makes the prognosis in individual circumstances very difficult to predict.

However, significant amounts of funds are being directed into research projects, and the Queensland Centre for Medical Genomics at the University of Queensland in my electorate of Ryan is leading the way, having received $27.5 million in 2009 to devise biomarker and genetic techniques to detect ovarian and other cancers. Professor Sean Grimmond, Director of the Queensland Centre for Medical Genomics at the University of Queensland, and his team are about halfway through their project, and they are very excited about the progress made to date. Working closely with the Peter MacCallum Institute in Melbourne and other global partners in the International Cancer Genome Consortium, it is the largest international effort of its kind to date. While this project will involve more than 25,000 patients of more than 50 different tumour types, there will be a particular focus on ovarian and pancreatic cancer, as they have some of the lowest five-year survival rates. They are focusing on ovarian cancer because of the unique prognosis of this disease as compared with other cancers. According to Professor Grimmond, in the first instance the tumour or any remaining parts of an ovarian cancer tumour can be very sensitive to treatment with chemotherapy. However, even if the tumour goes away for one or two years, what can then present in patients is a tumour resistant to the traditional forms of chemotherapy. This has massive implications for the quality of life of the patient, since after removal—and even possibly remission—there is the ever present fear that it may return in an untreatable form. This is why Professor Grimmond and his team are dedicated to furthering genomic sequencing for ovarian cancer, so that in the future women will be able to have a greater sense of security regarding the prognosis and treatment of their disease.

I will wear a teal ribbon tomorrow, Wednesday, 29 February, to remember the women who have battled ovarian cancer, to support those who will face it in the future, to raise awareness of the ongoing search for a cure and to thank those who are working towards it.