The cancer conversation that could save your life

Published 10:00am 1 February 2022

The cancer conversation that could save your life
Words by Ashleigh Howarth

Women of all ages are being encouraged to talk about ovarian cancer and get to know the symptoms to help save more lives.

With February being Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, there has never been a better time to start a conversation with your grandmother, mother, daughter, aunty, niece, best friend or co-worker.

Each year around 1300 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer across Australia.

It is estimated 240 Queensland women will be diagnosed this year.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO, Ms Chris McMillan, said ovarian cancer was one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in Australian women.

“It is the ninth most common cancer in Australian women, and the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths in Australian women,” she said.

“Of the gynaecological cancers (cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina and vulva), ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death.

“In 2018, 285 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer and sadly 206 women lost their lives to the disease in Queensland.

“But there is hope, and survival rates are growing. In Queensland, the five-year relative survival for ovarian cancer was 49 per cent during the period 2014-2018, which is up from 37 per cent in 1982-1989.”

What to look for

Ovarian cancer can happen at any age, but usually in women who have been through menopause.

Symptoms include abdominal bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, frequent or urgent urination, back, abdominal or pelvic pain, constipation or diarrhoea, menstrual irregularities, tiredness, indigestion, pain during intercourse and unexplained weight loss or weight gain.

“These symptoms do not necessarily mean you have cancer – they might be caused by another health condition,” Ms McMillan said.

“If you have these symptoms and they are new for you, are severe or continue for more than a few weeks, it is best to arrange a check-up.”

While your doctor may perform some tests like a blood test, a CT scan or a pelvic examination, these can only show if there are any abnormalities.

“The only way to confirm a diagnosis of ovarian cancer is by taking a tissue sample (biopsy) and looking at the cells under a microscope,” Ms McMillan said.

“Usually, this is done during surgery, which means that the diagnosis is confirmed and the cancer is treated at the same time.

“The treatment for ovarian cancer depends on the type of ovarian cancer, the stage, whether one wishes to have children, whether there is a faulty gene, general health and fitness, and doctors’ recommendations.”

How you can help

There are ways you can help the Cancer Council and women who are currently undergoing treatment.

As part of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, you can purchase a teal ribbon for Teal Ribbon Day, held on Wednesday, February 23.

You can also host a morning tea anytime in February or March with your friends or your workplace.

“Support from Queenslanders is what allows us to fund lifesaving research, bringing us closer to realising our vision of a cancer free future,” Ms McMillan said.

For more information or support from Cancer Council Queensland, call 13 11 20 or visit https://cancerqld.org.au/


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