By Cheyenne Myers
In celebration of World Ovarian Cancer Day, this May 8.
Admittedly, I didn’t know much about ovarian cancer when I was first introduced to the campaign. I had my regular health check-ups (pap smears, breast and skin checks) and I had the HPV vaccine in high school. So that covered me for ovarian cancer, right?
Unfortunately, it’s simply not the case. Through conversations with my work colleagues, my girlfriends, OCRF patients and ovarian cancer researchers, it’s not uncommon to be ill informed on this disease.
So PLEASE read on, educate yourself and have conversations with women around you about ovarian cancer.
1. Pap smears do NOT detect Ovarian Cancer
It’s all the same ‘region’ right? Wrong. Over 64% of the community incorrectly believe a pap smear diagnoses ovarian cancer. Pap smears are designed to detect cervical cancer, not ovarian.
There currently is NO early detection test for ovarian cancer. This means women are often diagnosed in the late stages, often too late to survive.
So, how is it diagnosed? Although tests and scans can show abnormalities, they cannot provide a diagnosis. The only way to currently confirm a diagnosis is by taking a biopsy during surgery and looking at the cells under a microscope.
2. The HPV vaccine does NOT prevent Ovarian Cancer
More than 70% of Australians incorrectly believe that the Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV) protects against ovarian cancer. Additionally, 1 in 3 Australians don’t know the difference between cervical and ovarian cancer.
There is no current vaccine for ovarian cancer.
3. Symptoms are vague
Symptoms for ovarian cancer will often be mistaken for common female complaints, therefore they don’t set off alarm bells for women or their doctors.
They include bloating, vague abdominal cramps or pressure, indigestion, sudden weight gain or abdominal swelling and lower backaches or cramps. I mean, as a woman I experience these symptoms more regularly than not.
Ultimately, this results in many women being diagnosed when they are at the advanced stages of the disease, significantly reducing survival rates.
4. The causes are unknown – it affects all types of women
Risk factors include age, reproductive history, having endometriosis, lifestyle and hormonal factors.
However, the cause is still unknown. Children as young as 5 years old have been diagnosed with the disease and only 15-20% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are found to have the BRCA or other similar genes.
To read inspiring stories of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, visit the OCRF website here (insert: https://www.ocrf.com.au/page/77/personal-stories)
5. How to help
The OCRF will use the proceeds to fund Australian researchers and help find an early detection test for ovarian cancer that is highly accurate, non-invasive and inexpensive, forming part of every woman’s annual health check-up, just like pap smears and mammograms.
Additionally, the OCRF use funds to help give women diagnosed more tailored treatment options resulting in gentler treatments for quality or life, or treatment plans designed to give women more precious time.
Alternatively, donate funds direct to the OCRF or wear any white shirt this White Shirt Day / World Ovarian Cancer Day on May 8th to raise awareness for ovarian cancer research.
If ovarian cancer is detected and treated early, chances of survival are over 90%.
However, because there is no early detection test, symptoms are vague and detection is difficult, most women are diagnosed when it’s too late, with only 29% of women diagnosed surviving more than 5 years.
In short, an early detection test will allow for early diagnosis, early treatment and will help save millions of women’s lives.