Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Matters of Public Interest

Teal Ribbon Day

1:38 pm

Photo of Judith AdamsJudith Adams (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today on what is known as Teal Ribbon Day. People around this building probably will have noted that a teal ribbon is being worn by many members of parliament and many staff. At 11 o’clock this morning we had the launch of an ovarian cancer report, called Ovarian cancer in Australia: an overview: 2010, which represents a significant contribution from the continuing partnership of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australasian Association of Cancer Registries. It highlights the importance of registries as a national resource. The report provides a nationwide snapshot of a major condition affecting a substantial number of Australian women.

At the launch we were welcomed by Dr Helen Zorbas, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre. This centre has been in existence for nearly 10 years and at every Senate estimates session I always make sure that we have that agency come to speak to us about the research that they are doing and to keep us up to date. It does very valuable research and the women of Australia hope that there will be a breakthrough from that research. The report was launched by the Hon. Justine Elliott, MP, the Minister for Ageing, and then we had a very enlightening and sincere speech from Ms Paula Benson, who is an ovarian cancer survivor. She was speaking on behalf of Ovarian Cancer Australia, which is an advocacy group. I will speak about national breast cancer research and also about this advocacy group, which I believe provides a very good service to the women of Australia and probably to other countries with its website on the net where discussion of these issues and advocacy is available to all.

I would like to speak about ovarian cancer as it is today. I note the heading of the media release that was put out by the institute and by the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre: ‘Despite improvements, prognosis still poor for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer’. This is the sad part: it is very hard to diagnose, because the symptoms do not really stand out, and once diagnosed often it is far too late. I will go through those symptoms a little later. The media release says:

Despite improvements in survival rates for ovarian cancer, the prognosis for women diagnosed with the disease remains relatively poor, according to the latest national report on ovarian cancer released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare … and National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre …

The report … shows that in 2006, there were 1,226 cases of ovarian cancer diagnosed in Australia, which equates to an average of three women being diagnosed with the disease every day.

‘Between 1982 and 2006, although the overall number of cases increased (largely due to a growing and ageing population) the incidence rate dropped slightly from 12.4 to 10.7 per 100,000 women,’ said Christine Sturrock, Head of the AIHW’s—

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s—

Cancer and Screening Unit.

Almost 800 Australian women, an average of two per day, died from ovarian cancer in 2006.

One in 77 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer by the time they reach the age of 85.

The report shows that 40% of women who were diagnosed with ovarian cancer between 2000 and 2006 were alive five years after their diagnosis. This is in contrast to those diagnosed between 1982 and 1987, when only 33% were alive five years after their diagnosis.

‘Although survival rates have improved since 1982, the challenge remains that ovarian cancer is difficult to detect in its early stages,’ said Dr Helen Zorbas—

from the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre.

‘Improved survival rates give increasing hope to women diagnosed today, however, a better understanding of the biology of ovarian cancer, and the need for an effective early detection test remain key areas of focus for future research,’ …

The report also found survival rates were significantly poorer for older women than younger women.

‘Reasons for poorer survival rates among older women include a greater likelihood of these women being diagnosed with more aggressive types of cancer or when the cancer has already spread,’ …

‘In the absence of a screening test, women who experience new or persistent symptoms of ovarian cancer are encouraged to see their doctor,’ …

Women lead such busy lives that we do not tend to think about it, and the symptoms can appear to be quite normal. The symptoms of ovarian cancer can include abdominal bloating, abdominal or back pain, appetite loss or feeling full very quickly, changes in toilet habits, unexplained weight loss or gain, indigestion or heartburn and fatigue. I think most women who are listening to me today would certainly relate to these issues. I say, as the professionals have said: if these symptoms persist, please go and see your GP. Do not be put off. Keep going back if symptoms persist. It is just so important with this particular disease. It is your life.

The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre came into being 10 years ago. Its vision is to reduce mortality and improve the wellbeing of those diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. Its mission is to play a lead role in national cancer control and to improve cancer care through an evidence based approach—providing information on best practice health system reform and policy—and it is certainly doing that. It is Australia’s national authority and source of information on breast and ovarian cancer, funded by the Australian government. The NBOCC works in close partnership with health professionals, cancer organisations, researchers, governments and women diagnosed with these cancers to translate worldwide cancer research into meaningful and evidence based information.

This organisation has accomplished significant gains in ensuring Australians with breast and ovarian cancer have the best possible outcomes through the delivery of quality clinical and supportive care. This is only achievable through work on many fronts—from the wide-reaching promotion of early detection messages to the provision of trusted evidence based information to guide clinical best practice and to inform policy on the identification of variations and outcomes and ways in which to address them. Other issues that the NBOCC deals with are raising community awareness, informing consumers on decision-making, guiding evidence based practice, improving the delivery of care and informing policy.

The other organisation that was involved today, and whom Paula Benson was representing, is Ovarian Cancer Australia. This is a national not-for-profit organisation providing support and advocacy for people affected by ovarian cancer. It is a peak body for ovarian cancer awareness and prevention. Its programs are focused on very important areas such as awareness of ovarian cancer and its symptoms, giving Australian women and their healthcare providers a better understanding of the early signs of ovarian cancer, providing support networks and resources to women and their families and friends affected by ovarian cancer, and advocating with medical professionals, government and the media for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It is the only organisation that works with Australian women and their families and friends who have been affected by ovarian cancer. Breast Cancer Network Australia, which is an advocacy group for women diagnosed with breast cancer, is really a sister body associated with helping women who have had a diagnosis of early breast cancer to cope with their issues.

Ovarian Cancer Australia has put out a pamphlet that sets out who is at risk of developing ovarian cancer. It lists women over 45 as being at greater risk of developing ovarian cancer. But, beware, it does affect girls as young as seven. It lists others at risk as women who have never taken the contraceptive pill, those who have had few or no pregnancies, those on a high-fat diet, being overweight and smokers, and those with a history of cancer in the family, especially ovarian, breast or some bowel cancers. Approximately 10 per cent of all ovarian cancer cases are due to an inherited gene fault, and this is found in one in 500 people in Australia—which is quite a frightening statistic.

I would like my colleagues to think of our former colleague Jeannie Ferris, who died of this disease nearly three years ago. She fought it with strength and supported organisations to make sure that people like her had the opportunity to have the best possible care. She certainly supported the research and put quite a lot of money into research for ovarian cancer so that other women who were also diagnosed were perhaps able to survive for much longer. We really do miss her.


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