Ovarian Cancer Australia has released figures that show awareness for ovarian cancer has increased over the last twelve months, yet still 1,000 Australian women die from the disease every year, and it has the worst survival rate of any women's cancer.
'This year we have seen a significant rise in engagement with members of the public on the issues surrounding ovarian cancer. During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February we reached an audience of nearly 60 million with our campaign - an increase of 25 million compared with the year before. We are creating new conversations about ovarian cancer every day and increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms. In a survey, 44 per cent of the general population knew that ovarian cancer had symptoms, but we still have a long way to go," said Alison Amos, CEO, Ovarian Cancer Australia.
Ms Amos said that the organisation relied on funding for campaigns such as Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, which this year had over 11,000 attendees to their -Afternoon Teal'TM campaign and raised over $320,000.
Online campaigns have also been very successful in raising awareness, such as the charity's IPhone Symptom Diary App which has been downloaded by over 4,300 people.
'We received more than 415,000 website hits last year, which represents a growth of over 45 per cent from the previous year," said Ms Amos.
Ms Amos said that corporate partners such as national furniture chain, Plush had helped to fund these much-needed awareness campaigns.
'We rely heavily on corporate investment. Last year Plush raised a huge $85,000 as a result of its -Snuggle Chair' campaign, whereby $50 is donated to Ovarian Cancer Australia from every Snuggle Chair sold," she said.
Mr Chris Burke, general manager, Plush, said that he was thrilled with the amount of money raised for the charity and that it was a very positive experience for the company.
'Our local store managers get behind the fundraiser and it trickles right down to community level. Some of our customers have recounted their own personal experiences with ovarian cancer. It is something that affects everybody and it is extremely rewarding to be able to offer assistance in research and awareness raising," he said.
Ms Amos said that more than $400,000 had been raised by corporate partners in 2014 yet whilst this was a significant amount, more funding was required to support the ongoing work of the organisation which focuses on providing support to those affected; raising awareness of the disease; delivering advocacy and guiding and funding research.
'Raising awareness about symptoms is a crucial part of this effort and the only key we have to early diagnosis and treatment," said Ms Amos.
'With more funding we can start to see a real impact on disease prevention and recovery," she said.
For further information, visit, www.ovariancanceraustralia.net.au
Question: Can you talk us through how awareness is increasing for Ovarian Cancer in Australia?
Alison Amos: The vision of our organisation is to "save lives and ensure that no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone". We are on a mission to raise awareness, and ensure that women living with ovarian cancer get the best possible support. This year we have seen a significant rise in engagement with members of the public on the issues surrounding ovarian cancer. During Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month which is held in February we reached an audience of nearly 60 million with our campaign - an increase of 25 million compared with the year before. We are creating new conversations about ovarian cancer every day and increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms. In a survey, 44 per cent of the general population knew that ovarian cancer had symptoms, but we still have a long way to go.
Question: How have you achieved this increase in awareness?
Alison Amos: We are a small team, but we try to punch above our weight and work constantly to increase awareness of the disease, motivated by the stories we hear every day of the women and their families who are impacted.
Every February we hold Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month with a wide range of activities to reach out to women. This year we held a high profile breakfast at Parliament House in Canberra which was attended by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition who pledged their support. During the month we also encourage people to host an "Afternoon Teal" fundraising event which raises a lot of awareness within communities. We have a number of high profile Ambassadors like Kate Ritchie and also Community Ambassadors who speak for us at events. Throughout the year we are very active on our social media channels and get a lot of interaction on our Facebook page. For World Ovarian Cancer Day in May this year we took part in an international campaign to ask people to sign up and pledge their support. We produce information leaflets on the signs and symptoms which we distribute widely.
Question: There is still a long way to go; how do you hope to increase the awareness of the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer in the coming years?
Alison Amos: One of the key things we want to do, to spread the news is to tap into the networks of others. For example this year we were the charity partner for an AFL match with Port Adelaide and I got to speak about symptoms awareness in front of nearly 45,000 people in the stadium. We have range of wonderful sponsors including Chemmart the national Pharmacy chain and Plush the furniture store, they help us spread the word through their stores and employees. We want to reach more strongly into the medical community to use their networks to spread our information. We also have the power of our community to help spread grass roots campaigns and awareness and we want to build on this in the coming years.
Question: What are the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer?
Alison Amos: Abdominal or pelvic pain
Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
The need to urinate often or urgently
Feeling full after eating a small amount
If these symptoms are new or unusual for you and you experience one or more of them persistently over a four-week period, you should consult your GP
Question: Why do many of the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer go under the radar?
Alison Amos: One of the problems is that there is no early detection test for ovarian cancer (it is not picked up with a pap smear as some people mistakenly believe). It can be difficult to diagnose ovarian cancer. The symptoms are ones that many women will have from time to time and are often symptoms of less serious and more common health problems. Women have to trust their instincts and the fact that they know their own bodies better than anyone. We have a number of tools including a symptoms diary (paper-based and also available as an iPhone App) so women can track and record what they are experiencing to enable them to have more detailed conversations with their doctors.
Question: Why does Ovarian Cancer have the worst survival rate of any women's cancer?
Alison Amos: This is from a combination of issues - often women are diagnosed at a late stage when less can be done for them. There have been hardly any advances in treatments over the last twenty years with only one new treatment being approved recently. However we hope to create a lot of change in relation to research and treatments with the launch of a National Action Plan for ovarian cancer research in November this year.
Question: Can you tell us about the charity's iPhone Symptom Diary App?
Alison Amos: The app based symptom diary is a tool to help you clearly communicate your symptoms with your GP. It has information about symptoms and risks of ovarian cancer and allows you to record symptoms you are experiencing over a 4 week period giving your GP an indication of their frequency and severity. You can download the iPhone app for free from the Apple iTunes and App store. The diary is also available in a paper based form which can be downloaded on our website at www.ovariancancer.net.au
Question: What's next for Ovarian Cancer Australia?
Alison Amos: We work in four main areas - providing support for women who are diagnosed; raising awareness; delivering advocacy and stimulating and funding research. We will continue to focus on all these areas, but a big area for us over the next couple of months is research. In November we will launch the National Action Plan for ovarian cancer research which we have developed in consultation with the leading scientists and doctors working in the field, as well as women living with ovarian cancer. As mentioned already there has been little movement in the treatment for ovarian cancer for over twenty years, but due to new discoveries about the nature of the disease the time is right to give a big push forward on research and new treatments. The report will highlight where the best research is taking place around Australia and overseas and will set out priority areas for investment, as well as approaches for generating the funding needed. Our big themes are to focus on excellence, to be transparent and to work together to achieve the results we so urgently need for the women who are affected each and every day.
Question: How can Australians support Ovarian Cancer Australia?
Alison Amos: We would love your support in a number of ways.
- Donate to us at www.ovariancancer.net.au or by calling 1300 660 334
- Host an Afternoon Teal party in Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month in February each year
- Hold a fundraising event of your own anytime throughout the year
- Join our online community to keep in touch with our work and for opportunities for involvement as they emerge – sign up for our e-newsletter; Like us on fb (www.facebook.com/ovariancanceraustralia), follow us on twitter (@ovariancanceroz)
- Volunteer for us - everything from supporting us at events to providing expert advice - get in touch to let us know if you are interested
Please get in touch at www.ovariancancer.net.au
Interview by Brooke Hunter