Senate debates

Thursday, 8 February 2024


Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

5:44 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

Yesterday morning I attended the International Women's Day parliamentary breakfast, organised by the United Nations Women Australia, here in this place. We were reminded of the importance of fighting for equality, for ensuring that gender is not the defining factor for your equality of opportunity. Most importantly, we were reminded of being counted in, being offered equality of opportunity and being offered the same experiences as everyone else

Unfortunately, one battle that many women in Australia and the world must face all too often is that of ovarian cancer, especially women over the age of 50. It truly is a very scary challenge for us and one which can completely turn lives upside down. With this month—February—being the nationally recognised awareness month for ovarian cancer, I thought it appropriate to raise the illness as an issue of concern here in this chamber tonight. This cancer is one which starts as a tumour in a woman's ovaries and generally begins in the cells which line the ovary. This accounts for nine out of 10 cases. Ovarian cancer is often diagnosed late and is therefore very difficult to treat successfully. In 2022, over 1,800 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and over 1,000 of them died as a result. That is the scary reality in Australia today.

I've been speaking on this issue every year that I've been in this chamber, and we're not seeing the results that we need to see. However, we are very lucky to live in a country which is at the forefront of advanced medical technology and research. I'm very thankful for the Menzies Institute of Medical Research and the Wicking centre in my home state of Tasmania. Since the 1980s, serious cancers of the fallopian tube have increased, which are closely linked to ovarian cancer. Diagnosed cancers of ovarian cancer have, however, decreased since the 1980s, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Since the early 1990s, survival rates of ovarian cancer diagnoses and cases have also increased. They are now at a level of 49 per cent. While this may seem low, it's due to the high incidence of late diagnosis that is linked to survival rates being at this low level.

A key issue of concern for me is the incidence of ovarian cancer diagnosis in my home state of Tasmania. At home in Tasmania, our health system is suffering from the last 11 years of a state Liberal government. It's in tatters. This also means that the likelihood of instances of ovarian cancer are higher because our health system can't maintain early diagnosis and, therefore, circumvent the issue before it happens. It is also concerning that an illness so serious as ovarian cancer only yields research results from 2019 nationally and 2020 at a Tasmanian level. When ovarian cancer has a survival rate of a mere 49 per cent, you would think that the medical research industry would be more concerned about statistics being up to date and awareness of this illness being promoted.

In 2019 there were 40 diagnosed cases of ovarian cancer in Tasmania. As a senator for Tasmania, I feel that these 40 women living with ovarian cancer deserve fully to be recognised in this place. So my urgent plea is, if you're a woman listening to this and you're experiencing bloating and pain in the abdomen, pain in the pelvis, changes to your menstrual or menopausal patterns, I urge you to visit your GP, your local hospital or your Medicare urgent-care clinic to be examined. Taking some time out to do that could save your life. If you aren't happy with your GP or with a diagnosis, seek a second opinion. Young women are dying. Women over 50 are dying because they are diagnosed too late. This is a killer disease. It does not have the same prominence as breast cancer perhaps because it's a bit more sexy to talk about breast cancer than to talk about ovarian cancer. We have to change that.

I urge you all in this place to raise awareness of ovarian cancer when you go back to your home states. Bring this to the fore so we can talk about it and increase the survival rates of those diagnosed with this deadly disease.


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