Ovarian cancer is the eighth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian females. Compared to other gynaecological cancers, ovarian cancer has the highest death rate at 4.8% of all female cancers per year. Every year, around 1,800 Australian women are diagnosed, and internationally, diagnosis rates reach nearly a quarter of a million.
It is often difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer as common tests and scans can only show abnormalities instead of providing a diagnosis. The only way to currently confirm a diagnosis is by taking a biopsy during surgery and looking at the cells under a microscope.
Both women and their doctors mistakenly attribute ovarian cancer symptoms to common female concerns and complaints, delaying crucial further steps from being taken. This results in many women being diagnosed when they are at the advanced stages of the cancer, significantly reducing survival rates.
The chances of surviving longer than five years once diagnosed with ovarian cancer is 48% overall. If a woman is diagnosed at Stage 1, while the cancer is localised, her survival rates are over 90%. However, approximately 70% of all ovarian cancer cases in Australia are diagnosed in Stages 3 or 4, contributing to the low overall survival rate.
There is no current early detection test for ovarian cancer. The University of Melbourne recently determined that 64% of women incorrectly believed a pap smear detects ovarian cancer, and more than 70% of Australians don’t know or incorrectly believe that the Human Papilloma Virus Vaccine (HPV) protects against ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is often difficult to diagnose due to symptoms being mistaken for other conditions. Surgery is the only way to properly diagnose ovarian cancer and because of this, ovarian cancer has the highest death rate among all gynaecological cancers. Currently, only 29% of women diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer will survive beyond five years.
An estimated 1,042 females die each year from ovarian cancer, which is overall 4.8% of all female deaths from cancer.
Ovarian cancer can occur at any age; however, it is usually more prevalent in women over 40 years. The risk of being diagnosed before age 85 is 1 in 85.
Some women are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer because they have a strong family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer.
There are two genes associated with ovarian cancer called BRCA1 (breast cancer 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer 2). If a woman has inherited a fault in one of these genes, she has a high chance of developing ovarian cancer or breast cancer, although it does not mean that she is certain to develop cancer. Around 5% of all breast cancers and up to 15% of ovarian cancers can be explained by an inherited gene fault in BRCA1 or BRCA2.
If ovarian cancer is caused by inheriting one of these genes, it is called hereditary cancer. Other factors that are associated with a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer include:
You can read more about ovarian cancer, types and risk factors here.
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ACRF awarded a $2 million grant to help establish the ACRF Cancer Discovery Accelerator at Adelaide’s Centre for Cancer Biology.
This game-changing program will help expand the research expertise and capabilities in South Australia and across the continent. The new technologies include the latest genome sequencing equipment and a super high-resolution microscope, enabling researchers to develop powerful new methods for measuring proteins in individual cancer cells. This work will address a major challenge in the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and how it is often difficult to diagnose without an early detection test being available.
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