Senator MOORE (Queensland) (7:27 PM)
Tomorrow in this place we are going to be part of a national campaign to raise awareness in all sectors of our community, all across the country, of the issues around ovarian cancer. February is the month when we try to ensure that women know more about themselves and look for the symptoms of ovarian cancer. It is when we pay tribute to all those women who have suffered with this disease-all too many of whom we have lost.
In October 2006, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee brought down a particularly valuable report. We called it Breaking the silence: a national voice for gynaecological cancers. In the speech that I made on that report, I said:
I want to commence the comments today by paying great tribute to all the people who gave their time, their effort and their genuine courage to come before our committee, sharing their stories and encouraging us as a committee to move forward on this very important challenge. The challenge before all of us as members of the committee is to accept that gynaecological cancer is killing too many women in our community and we must share in the efforts to stop that happening. That sharing will be done by all of us, and indeed our committee has looked closely at moving forward to encourage awareness campaigns and genuine research efforts to reinforce the wonderful work that is already being done.
Those words remain true. There are still way too many women being killed by this condition. We know that in 2010 more than 1,500 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, more than 850 of those women will die from the disease. I do not know how they come up with these stats, but I have read that one woman will die from this condition every 11 hours and 75 per cent of women are still diagnosed at way too advanced a stage of the disease and will not have a lifespan of more than five years beyond diagnosis.
In 2010, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in Australian women. There is no typical woman who will have this condition. We cannot presume that just because you have a family history, just because you have reached a certain age or just because of lifestyle factors that you will necessarily be subject to ovarian cancer or that, probably more particularly, you will be safe from it. There are known cases of girls as young as seven being diagnosed. So our advanced maturity is no protection. Every woman should be looking at her own body and understanding it herself.
As I have said before in this place, one of the clear messages given to us all by the women who came before the Senate Community Affairs Committee in 2006 and who continue to talk with us about these issues is that we must take ownership of our own health. It is not good enough to sit back and wait for other people to provide information to us. It is not enough to sit back and wait for some professional intrusion that would be able to tell us what our risks are and what we should do for our health. The message is that we must see what the symptoms are, we must ask about them and we must ensure that we work effectively with the range of professional services that are available to us in this country.
We do have fine medical services-no one argues with that. But all too often, as we have been told in the case of this particular cancer, women do not take that step of asking about their own health. They self diagnose, they dismiss the causes as something else and they do not work effectively with their doctors. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are very general, and one of the things that we must do is to ensure that we understand them and work with doctors to ensure that they understand them. Doctors alone cannot work with our health.
Ovarian Cancer Australia-an organisation I know and whose work I support strongly-developed a symptom diary, which is available on the web so that women can take ownership themselves, look at their own symptoms and ensure that they keep a record. That way, when you as a woman go to talk with your doctor, you can:
Clearly and confidently tell your doctor that you're worried about the possibility of ovarian cancer.
Having listed your symptoms, taken note and kept your own record, you can then have a level of knowledge and confidence with which you can work with the doctor and so not be too easily dismissed.
One of the stories we hear regularly is that because of their vagueness and their general nature the symptoms could be put down to a range of things including just being tired or overworked. Also-and it still happens to this day, though I find it particularly offensive-people can be accused of being hysterical about their health. That is not acceptable. What we need to do-and I hope this will be the message that comes out of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the knowledge sharing and seminars that come with it-is to realise that we are not being hysterical about our health; we are being confident and protective of our bodies and our health.
You should also make a clear list of the concerns before you go to the doctor, so that when you are asked why you are there, you are able to confidently answer. I keep repeating this statement about the confidence element that is required, because nobody knows your body better than you-you are the expert. Then, when you are at the doctor, with the help of the completed diary that you have with you, you should describe the symptoms in as much detail as you can. You should then be able to work through with your doctor what could happen next.
You should also be sure of your own family history-once again, it is no one's job to do that but your own. Check out your family history of all health conditions, because we know that sometimes the fact that you do have a family history of some conditions can make you more susceptible to a diagnosis. As I have said, it is not always the case-nothing is guaranteed-but you need to know your own situation and work with it.
Most importantly, do not be satisfied if you are not comfortable with the response you get from your medical practitioner. We now have a large number of support facilities which are available and with which you can share and sort out where you want to go next. One of the things that the Parliamentary Secretary for Health, Mark Butler, announced quite recently was extended funding for a telephone service that people can contact on all kinds of issues, including ovarian cancer, to ask questions in order to find out where they can go next.
There is also the extraordinary work of the National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre-a store of knowledge and support, a range of publications and a website-to which we can turn to learn more. The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre existed formally since 2009, although it has been running for much longer than that. It provides linkages with practitioners, people in the field and consumers who understand the circumstances and are there to produce a sense of confidence through shared knowledge and awareness. In fact, people from that centre will be here tomorrow in Parliament House to once again raise awareness. I hope that many of our parliamentary comrades will be there with something teal-coloured-teal being the signature colour of ovarian awareness-so that we are again part of a wider sharing of awareness and knowledge and of the extension of a sense of confidence and solidarity, knowing that the messages that were put to the Senate Community Affairs Committee in October 2006 are being taken forward.
We looked particularly at putting out a strong message about breaking the silence. We cannot be silent, and we have a great chance to put forward ideas to ensure that people who may have the symptoms of ovarian cancer will be able to have that diagnosis confirmed more quickly so that there is a greater rate of success in curing the disease. We can do something about knocking down the terrible death rate of this particular condition. We have this responsibility. We have the opportunity to be part of a much wider movement, and I encourage all people to be part of the ongoing fight against this condition.
Tuesday, 23 February 2010