Every year, approximately 1,800 women in Australia are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. As one of the most commonly diagnosed forms of cancer for women in Australia, it's important to raise awareness and support for those suffering from this deadly disease. February has been Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and as the month comes to a close, it's time to reflect on the cause to ensure that the sentiment that the month promotes is carried forward all year long.
Founded 20 years ago by Ovarian Cancer Australia, the month seeks to educate Australians on the disease and raise awareness by sharing the stories of the women affected. The month also seeks to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of the cancer, highlighting the real women living with the cancer, the risk factors and the diagnosis and treatment process. The month comes to it's main event on the last Wednesday of February on Teal Ribbon Giving Day - the day for Australian's to support people impacted by ovarian cancer with donations matched by sponsors. This year, they raised over $1M for the cause, used to help fund specialist ovarian cancer nurses and the organisation's helpline.
Ovarian cancer presents as abnormal cells that grow uncontrollably in the peritoneum, fallopian tubes or ovaries, with the possibility of metastasis to other parts of the body. The Cancer Council lists the symptoms of ovarian cancer on their website. If you, or someone you know, presents with any of these symptoms, diagnosis is identified by tests, including physical examination, blood tests to check for the CA125 marker, pelvic ultrasound, CT scan, PET scan and/or colonoscopy. Treatment is dependent on the state of the cancer. Women who are at high risk of cancer are encouraged to consider risk-reducing surgery - the most effective of which is bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.
According to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, ovarian cancer is the most lethal gynecological cancer, with one woman dying of ovarian cancer every eight hours in Australia. Furthermore, although 64% of women surveyed by the University of Melbourne believe that a pap smear detects ovarian cancer, it does not, with no early detection test for the cancer in existence. However, if a woman is diagnosed at Stage 1, there is an over 90% survival rate. For these reasons, it's important to take action if you are considered high risk, meaning if you have:
- A family history of ovarian, breast or colon cancer
- A mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- Increasing age
- Medication conditions such as endometriosis
- Use of hormone replacement therapy
- Tobacco smoking
Tubal ligation, having children or use of the oral contraceptive pill are believed to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
As Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month comes to a close, listen to the stories of real women, identify your or your loved ones' risk factor for ovarian cancer, educate yourself of the diagnosis and treatment or pay tribute to someone you've lost to ovarian cancer today.
If you need to talk, you can phone the Ovarian Cancer Australia helpline at 1300 660... to speak to an ovarian cancer nurse from Monday to Friday, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Claudia Slack