Researchers believe they are closer than ever before to improving treatment for ovarian cancer, Ovarian Cancer Australia (OCA) has declared during the annual awareness month for the nation’s deadliest female cancer.
Data shows ovarian cancer is the deadliest, yet most underfunded, female cancer in Australia, with just 46% of women diagnosed surviving past five years.
But according to Ovarian Cancer Australia, 2021 offers newfound hope as researchers believe they are on the cusp of a breakthrough.
Professor David Bowtell, one of Australia’s leading translational ovarian cancer researchers, said recent advances in understanding of the disease have boosted optimism that new treatments will be uncovered for women with advanced ovarian cancer.
“We now know that ovarian cancer is not one disease, but a spectrum of related diseases with unique genetic characteristics,” Professor Bowtell explains.
“This is creating the potential for developing more effective, personalised treatment options for women living with the disease.”
During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (OCAM) – which runs throughout February – Ovarian Cancer Australia is aiming to increase Australians’ understanding of the disease while calling for donations that could help ensure more women live longer, and importantly, that the 5,000 women currently living with the disease get access to the support they need.
In Australia, over 1,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year, with one woman dying every eight hours from the disease. For about 70% of women with advanced disease who achieve remission, the disease will return.
“We need more evidence and more resources to improve the lives of women with this horrific cancer,” CEO of OCA Jane Hill says.
“Any donation during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month can really help us to get there and this year for every dollar donated on Teal Ribbon Giving Day on 24 February, Ovarian Cancer Australia will triple it, thanks to our major supporters.”
Funds raised will be used to increase support and care for women living with ovarian cancer and their families, by giving all Australians impacted by ovarian cancer access to specialist ovarian cancer nurses.
The ultimate aim is to ensure no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone, OCA says.
The organisation’s advocacy efforts, which now span two decades, led to the federal government awarding $35 million in funding for critical research projects in the past two years and new confidence from researchers regarding improved treatments have filled the ovarian cancer community with real hope.
The majority of women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer at an advanced stage, largely because signs and symptoms are unclear and commonly experienced by many women. A lack of an effective screening test also makes early diagnosis difficult.
Chloe Spitalnic, 22, a Masters student, was diagnosed with stage 3 low-grade serious ovarian cancer in August last year, two weeks into Melbourne’s stage 3 lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic.
She says it was a complete shock, especially given there is no history in her family.
“I had never really heard of ovarian cancer affecting young women, making the whole experience quite isolating and scary,” Ms Spitalnic says.
“I initially called my GP after a few days of pain in my abdomen, which I just shrugged off as normal body pains.”
Ms Spitalnic’s GP referred her to get an ultrasound, which detected the disease.
“A few months later and I’ve gone through two surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy, but I’m determined not to let this get in the way of my Masters, and I’m happy to say I’ve managed to continue studying and even squeezed in an exam during this period too.”
Reflecting on her experience, Ms Spitalnic encouraged women to listen to their bodies and always seek medical advice, no matter how minor the issue may seem.
“I think as a country we need to increase awareness of ovarian cancer and educate women of all ages that this cancer does not discriminate against age.”
Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month runs throughout February.
For more information or to donate visit ovariancancer.net.au