Ovarian cancer myths still widespread


teal coffee cup with biscuits

More than a quarter of Australians know somebody who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and yet half believe – incorrectly – that ovarian cancer has no symptoms or don’t know if the disease has them.

Ovarian Cancer Australia has released these findings in the leadup to Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February.

The study also found that just over half of Australians still wrongly believe the Pap smear can be used to detect ovarian cancer, and a third believe that most women with ovarian cancer survive.

Each year 1400 Australian women are diagnosed with the disease, and more than 1000 will die.

Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer, and only 43% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will be alive five years after diagnosis, compared to 89% for breast cancer.

The study also found that while women aged over 50 – the age group most commonly affected – are more likely than younger women to know someone diagnosed with the disease, they don’t necessarily have any better understanding of it.

A third of respondents also believed, incorrectly, that the HPV vaccine protects against ovarian cancer.

Only one in 10 Australians knew the oral contraceptive pill reduces the risk of ovarian cancer. This is actually least well known amongst women aged over 50, with only 5% of this age group responding correctly.

With no early detection test for ovarian cancer, knowing the signs and symptoms of the disease is the best way of detecting it, says Ovarian Cancer Australia Board member Tracey Curro.

“Although the study shows that more than a quarter of Australians know someone who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it is alarming to see that it is still so misunderstood,” says Curro.

The symptoms are:

  • abdominal or pelvic pain;
  • increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating;
  • the need to urinate often or urgently; and
  • feeling full after eating a small amount.

Australians are encouraged to host an Afternoon Teal to raise funds and awareness. Chemmart Pharmacies are also selling merchandise.

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