Did you know that every year in Australia about 1,500 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer? Unfortunately, more than 70 percent of these women are diagnosed at an advanced stage where the cancer has spread and is difficult to treat successfully.

Although this week marks the 30th anniversary of Mardi Gras, it is also Ovarian Cancer Awareness Week. The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre is aiming to increase women’s understanding of the symptoms of the cancer through a national media campaign -“ and that includes the lesbian community.

National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre director Dr Helen Zorbas said without a screening test for ovarian cancer it is vital that women are aware of its symptoms.

The centre will also be launching the results of a survey of over 2,000 Australian women this week. The results show levels of awareness about the symptoms of ovarian cancer remain low, she said.

It’s also important to have a thorough understanding of the methods to detect the illness.

Over 60 percent of women surveyed incorrectly believe an abnormal Pap test is a sign of ovarian cancer -“ yet a Pap test detects cervical cancer, Zorbas said.

The number of women diagnosed in Australia each year has increased, but the mortality rate has decreased. About 42 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer can expect to be alive at least five years after their diagnosis. This has improved from 34 percent in the 1980s.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and similar to the symptoms of many other conditions that can be part of everyday life. Zorbas said every woman will experience one or more of the symptoms at some stage but, if any are unusual for you and persist, it is important to see your doctor immediately so that you can be referred for further tests such as an ultrasound.

The most important thing women can do is be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and listen to their bodies, she said.

Your risk of ovarian cancer increases with age as more than 80 percent of cases of ovarian cancer occur in women over the age of 50 years. Hereditary factors can also add to the risk.

The good news is that there is no evidence that lesbians are at increased risk of ovarian cancer. However, research has shown that having children and breastfeeding may have a protective effect against the disease.

The greater the number of pregnancies, the greater the protection, Zorbas said. The data on the incidence of ovarian cancer has not been broken down according to sexuality.

SYMPTOMS OF OVARIAN CANCER

-¢ abdominal bloating

-¢ abdominal or back pain

-¢ appetite loss or feeling full

-¢ changes in toilet habits

-¢ unexplained weight gain or loss

-¢ indigestion or heartburn

-¢ fatigue

For more details on ovarian cancer and the awareness week visit www.nbocc.org.au.

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