Senator MOORE (Queensland) (6.58 pm)—
As you know, this month is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It is not a day and it is not a week; this issue is so important that we have actually now got a national ovarian cancer month. The message of this month is to continue to raise awareness in our community—amongst women in particular, but more particularly, I think, with practitioners, with people who work in the medical field and with the wider community—about the horrors of ovarian cancer.
This chamber knows all too well about the issues concerned with ovarian cancer. You would be aware that two years ago we were privileged to have a report from the Community Affairs Committee that looked at the issues of gynaecological cancer in our community. We called that report Silent voices, and now that has become a cry for all of us because we demand that the voices should no longer be silent. In fact, this is the theme of the national awareness month. We as a community are saying that women need to take ownership of their own bodies. This came out particularly clearly at the launch in Melbourne on Sunday of National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month where again, as always, we were privileged to hear from women who are working through their own journey with this condition with strength and courage and who were prepared to share that process with all of us so that we can learn from their knowledge and passion and the theme of stopping the silence can be carried across the wider community in Australia and internationally. Ovarian cancer is not an Australian issue but a global issue.
On Sunday, the awareness month was launched by the Minister for Health and Ageing, Ms Roxon, who came along and talked with great care and knowledge about these issues. Some of that is down to the work that women throughout the community have done to make sure that governments of all flavours and at all levels are aware of all these issues and act together to respond to the demand. Minister Roxon launched a new diary, which has been brought out by Ovarian Cancer Australia, called The Ovarian Cancer Symptom Diary. We have talked before in this place about the vagueness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. I will not go through all of the symptoms. It is most important that people do not listen to me or to individuals taking about these issues but instead seek out the information themselves through the range of material that is available on websites, from the National Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Centre, from Ovarian Cancer Australia and from various other groups. There is information out there from individuals about how they found out what was wrong with them. We cannot sit back and wait for anybody else, even if they are a practitioner, to take ownership of knowledge about our own bodies. This tool, the first ever symptom diary, gives women that support, that practical aid. When the conditions are listed, a woman can take personal note of whether she has these symptoms. Then, from knowing her own body and by knowing the changes that are taking place in her own body and by asking for advice and support from other people through the websites, through support groups and most particularly through Ovarian Cancer Australia, if she believes that she has ovarian cancer, she can go with absolute confidence to her general practitioner and say:
‘This is what’s happening to my body. I want to know more.’ That is a message that comes out from National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Another message is for women to take ownership of their own bodies—to explore, to question and to find out what is happening with their own body.
We heard statements at the launch on Sunday in Melbourne from a survivor who only last year thought that she was a fit and healthy woman. She talked about the fact that she was fit and healthy. She took us with her through the journey that she made last year—from the horror of the diagnosis, to the denial of the diagnosis, to the absolute need she had for support from her family, who were there with her all the way, and also the wonderful support, knowledge and professional expertise of the practitioners that we have in this country, of whom we should be most proud. We know how strong the knowledge bank is in this country. It goes through the whole range of practitioners. GPs now have their own information sheet, which was put out only last year by the National Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer Centre. That sheet contains tips for general practitioners to make them more aware of this condition. It discusses what they can do with their women patients to raise awareness and how they can work through those vague symptoms to get to the next round of tests so as to be able to make the earliest possible diagnosis.
This cancer, like all cancers, has a greater rate of survival and effective treatment the earlier the initial diagnosis. That came through in the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs report on this issue. With ovarian cancer and other gynaecological cancers, women, their families and their doctors are tremendously worried that by the time they reach a diagnosis the condition will have moved through to a quite late stage and that at that time their chances of effective treatment and survival are much lower. This has been a major concern in our country in tracing ovarian cancer. It is estimated that around 1,500 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. More than 850 of those women will not survive a reasonable time after their diagnosis. The key issue is the time of the diagnosis.
That is why we need to have an awareness month and a special day, which this year will be 25 February. All of our offices will be inundated with teal ribbons. I do not know the reason for teal, but it is a colour that stands out. That will be the colour that we will be asking people across the community to wear to raise awareness. We need every woman to get this message so that they make an effort to ask questions about their own bodies, to use tools such as this symptom diary, to go to their GP and work with them and to draw their attention, if necessary, to the kinds of tools that are available now.
We need women to say, as Senator Jeannie Ferris, whom we knew and miss, was able to say, ‘Take the action, because I am important enough to deserve it.’ That is the key message. We need women to say: ‘My body is my responsibility and it’s up to me to seek out the treatment and to ensure that no-one dismisses my symptoms and tells me I should just lie down and rest.’ They need to have the evidence in their hands through things such as the symptom diary and through the information that is available on the web sites. We need women to say: ‘I want to have the tests that are available. I want to access the ultrasound services that are available across this country.’ As I have said before in this place, when the diagnosis is made, they need to say, ‘I want to be part of a clinical trial.’ Consistently, the evidence and all the information that we have is that the real value of knowledge comes through clinical trials. I again ask that we ensure that clinical trials across our country are well resourced and funded and that their importance is acknowledged so that women have the best possible chance of an early diagnosis and good treatment. We have that ability through our science and our research.
I really need to put on record again my immense admiration and respect for the practitioners we have in this country. But we need women to demand their own rights. The clinical trial that is being done through the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in association with the Queensland Institute of Medical Research is currently funded—I really enjoy this particular process—by the American Department of Defense. I am not sure why, but I deeply thank them for their funding. On behalf of women across the world, I congratulate them for helping this wide clinical trial develop knowledge that can be used by our researchers to discover an effective cure for this horrible condition.
We will be celebrating National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month here on 25February. I ask the community to be part of that. I say to them: during this month, get to know more about your own body so that you can be healthy and knowledgeable and can take ownership.