Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 February 2020


Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

8:04 pm

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight in the adjournment debate, as you did last night, Madam Acting Deputy President Polley, to recognise and bring awareness that February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. I'd like to take this opportunity in the Senate to share facts and encourage the community, the women in our community in particular, to donate for better screening, diagnosis and treatment. Ovarian cancer is a cancer that, unfortunately, has affected not just my family but many other families.

Every year, around 1,600 Australian women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Of all the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 70 per cent will experience cancer recurrence and only 46 per cent will survive. Put another way, each and every day four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and, tragically, three women will die of it. Ovarian cancer has not had the same level of awareness or fundraising over recent decades as other cancers. Ovarian cancer gets less than 25 per cent of the funding that goes to other, less deadly, cancers. As a result, there is wide misunderstanding about ovarian cancer, particularly among many of the migrant and ethnic groups in Australia, about its signs and symptoms, about how it is screened and about how women should be able to prevent it.

Seventy per cent of Australians believe that the vaccine for human papillomavirus, commonly referred to as HPV, protects women from ovarian cancer. It does not. Half of all Australians believe that a pap smear can detect ovarian cancer, but a pap test screens for cervical cancer, not cancer of the ovaries. In fact, there is no effective test or screen for ovarian cancer and no vaccine to help protect women from it.

The lack of funding for ovarian cancer has not only led to this widespread misunderstanding in the community but also left researchers and scientists without the resources that they need to better understand the disease. This means that ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed too late, making treatment very difficult. This might sound disheartening, but the message from Ovarian Cancer Australia is very clear: it's time for teal to enjoy some time in the spotlight. By raising awareness we can knock these misunderstandings on the head, and donating and providing funding means researchers can better understand the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and find better treatments until one day, hopefully, they find a cure. Ovarian Cancer Australia, along with other stakeholders and advocates, have been successful in lobbying for a new national action plan, and they've sought funding from the federal government. That is very good news. I think at the last election we did see a bit of bipartisanship when it came to cancers.

But more can be done and must be done, and everyone in our community has a role to play. Earlier today I shared on my social media channels some resources that were supplied by Ovarian Cancer Australia, and I certainly intend to do that throughout my community back home in Victoria. My message to the community, especially to women, is: please talk to your doctor. Go to the Ovarian Cancer Australia website and download their resources. Help your friends and family understand the signs, symptoms and risk factors. If you're in a position to make a donation, I do encourage everyone to do so.

Funding is absolutely critical for the research that needs to be done to save the lives of women who are diagnosed. We simply cannot continue to allow three women to die from ovarian cancer every day. I thank the Senate for this opportunity tonight.