Cat: How many women are diagnosed annually in Australia?
Alison: Each year in Australia around 1400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and more than 1000 women die from the disease each year. Sadly, ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer and there has been very little improvement in survival in the past 20 years.
What are the major signs and symptoms to be aware of?
There is no early detection test for ovarian cancer so the best way of detecting the disease is to know and recognise the symptoms. The four most frequently reported symptoms for ovarian cancer are:
- Abdominal or pelvic pain;
- Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating;
- The need to urinate often or urgently;
- Feeling full after eating a small amount.
If these symptoms are new for you and you experience one or more of them persistently over a four-week period, consult your GP.
Women can also track their symptoms by downloading Ovarian Cancer Australia’s symptom diary.
or our ‘K.I.S.S. & Make Up’ iPhone app which allows women to record their symptoms and generate a report to help them communicate with their GP. Our K.I.S.S and Make Up app also features makeup tips from Miranda Kerr’s Australian make-up artist and is available for FREE from the Apple iTunes and App store
Risk factors include: Age: ovarian cancer is most common in women over 50 years of age and in women who have stopped menstruating (have been through menopause); Genetics and family history: Genetics and family history are responsible for at least 15% of ovarian cancers. For example; if a woman has two or more relatives from the same side of her family affected by ovarian, or ovarian and breast cancer, her risk of developing the disease may be increased. This tends to be a result of an inherited faulty gene (BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation) that increase a woman’s risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. Women who are descended from Ashkenazi Jewish populations are more likely to carry this faulty gene. All women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, regardless of family history, are recommended to attend a familial cancer centre to consider genetic testing; Child-bearing history: women who have not had children, are unable to have children, have never used oral contraceptives or have had children over the age of 30, may be at slightly higher risk. This is due to ovaries not having a “rest” from the break and repair of the surface of the ovary when women ovulate each month; Endometriosis: this condition is when the tissue lining the uterus (endometrium) is also found outside of the uterus; hormonal factors: including early puberty (menstruating before 12) or late menopause (onset after 50); lifestyle factors: such as smoking tobacco, being overweight or eating a high fat diet. For more information visit www.ovariancancer.net.au.
Treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Less often, treatment may include radiotherapy. The type of treatment a woman receives depends on the type and stage of her ovarian cancer and her general health. Ovarian Cancer Australia strongly recommends that women are treated by a gynaecological oncologist who specialises in treating cancers of the reproductive tract and has very specialised surgical skills. Ideally, women will also be part of a multidisciplinary health care team — where each member of the team specialises in a different area of care.
Ovarian cancer has a five year survival rate well below the average for all cancers. In Australia, the overall five year survival rate for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 43%. In comparison, the overall five year survival rate for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer is 89%. If diagnosed early, the majority of women can survive. Unfortunately the majority of women are diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease.
What sort of support is there for women with OC?
Ovarian Cancer Australia offers a range of resources and support options to ensure that no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone.
Resilience: a free guide and personal record for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The guide includes information on diagnosis, treatment, well-being, support, as well as useful, practical information about additional support resources. Resilience also includes a support DVD which includes interviews with women with ovarian cancer as well as family members and health professionals.
Support groups: Ovarian Cancer Australia’s support groups provide an opportunity for women to share their story, gain more information about their diagnosis and treatment, share coping strategies and receive emotional support. Support groups are held in capital cities around Australia.
Tele-support group: This support group is held monthly over the telephone and provides a space for women to share stories, obtain information and talk about coping strategies.
Online forum: The online forum enables women and their families, friends and carers to share their personal stories and information in a secure online environment.
1300 support and information line: Women can call our 1300 number for information and support from Monday to Friday.
For more information on these resources visit www.ovariancancer.net.au