Community pharmacists and pharmacy assistants are encouraged to learn the ovarian cancer symptoms and encourage women presenting with those symptoms to seek further advice, says Dr Kathy Nielsen, Director of Research and Advocacy at Ovarian Cancer Australia.
The organisation is getting ready for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February, which will culminate in Teal Ribbon Day (25 Feb).
Teal is the international colour for ovarian cancer.
“The symptoms of ovarian cancer are abdominal or pelvic pain; increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating; needing to urinate often or urgently; and feeling full after eating a small amount,” says Dr Nielsen.
“If any of these symptoms are new and unusual for women and they have been experiencing them persistently for two weeks or more, we encourage them to talk to their doctor and ask if it could be their ovaries. We have a symptom diary which can either be downloaded from our website or as an app on their iPhone called Kiss & Makeup. It can help track and record symptoms and assist a woman to speak with her GP.
“Community pharmacies are on the frontline of community health so they have a key role to play in spreading awareness of ovarian cancer. It’s important for them to learn the symptoms of ovarian cancer so that if anyone presents with these, they can be referred onto their doctor.
“Other activities like wearing the teal ribbon and displaying awareness resources are also vital in raising awareness amongst the community.”
While ovarian cancer has in the past been referred to as a silent disease, this is actually not the case, Dr Nielsen says.
“Women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer frequently report the four symptoms above. That is why our organisation is dedicated to getting the message into the community that everyone should learn the symptoms of ovarian cancer and any woman experiencing them persistently should ask her doctor if they might be caused by her ovaries.
“We know that the sooner a woman is diagnosed, the better her outcomes are likely to be.”
She encourages pharmacies to consider hosting an Afternoon Teal (teal is the international colour of ovarian cancer) during February for their staff and customers, selling cakes or requesting a gold coin donation to raise funds and awareness.
“It’s also really fun and a great way to connect with customers and the local community,” she says.
Chemmart Pharmacy has been a great supporter of Ovarian Cancer Australia since its inception 14 years ago, Dr Nielsen told the AJP.
“This year they are again selling the limited edition ‘Colour for a Cause’ teal nail polish packs with all proceeds being donated to the cause. In addition, Chemmart Pharmacies raise a substantial amount through individual store fundraising activities including fun runs, bake-offs and cake stalls.”
And awareness is growing in the community, she says.
“Each year during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February we see growing and more in depth coverage in the media. Last year alone there was over 1,000 items of coverage. We also know that the number of people engaging with our organisation is growing, meaning that our messages are getting out there.
“There is still more to do though. Ovarian cancer is a poor prognosis cancer. Around 1,400 Australian women will be diagnosed with the disease each year and sadly 1,000 will die.
“The five year survival rate sits at around 43% which is much lower than many other cancers such as breast cancer which sits at 89%.
“Too many women still don’t know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.”