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Call for specialised ovarian cancer nurses

25 February 2020

~ 5 minutes

Women living with ovarian cancer are calling for specialised Ovarian Cancer Nurses 

Media release, February 25, 2020

At any given moment there are more than 4,000 women in Australia living with an ovarian cancer diagnosis. Despite this, at Ovarian Cancer Australia there is currently just one support professional for every 600 women living with the deadly disease.  

Ovarian cancer is the most lethal women’s cancer and the sixth most common cause of cancer death in Australia.  

The revelation comes as Australians impacted by ovarian cancer joined Members of Parliament at a special Teal Ribbon breakfast at Parliament House this morning to mark February’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Teal is the international colour for ovarian cancer.  

Ovarian Cancer Australia’s CEO Jane Hill said specialist Ovarian Cancer Nurses to support women and their families living with an ovarian cancer diagnosis are desperately needed. In late 2019, the organisation submitted a $9m request to the Federal Government to help fund 21 of these nurses. 

“We applaud the Australian Government’s leadership and commitment to funding high-impact ovarian cancer research,” Ms Hill said.  

“Just last year, Ovarian Cancer Australia welcomed the news that Australian researchers will have access to a landmark $20 million funding grant specifically targeting ovarian cancer, $15 million for clinical trials for reproductive cancers and $3 million for Traceback, a  project identifying and offering testing to women and their families with a genetic predisposition to ovarian and breast cancer.  

“However, the nature of ovarian cancer carries with it unique physical and psychological challenges and women diagnosed have extremely high support needs and this is why Specialist Ovarian Cancer Nurses are needed. 

“Treatment for ovarian cancer is brutal. Women can face major abdominal surgery with a large incision from the breastbone to the pubic bone. This surgery is invasive and commonly referred to as ‘debulking’ and includes the examination and removal of tissue and organs where the disease may have spread, including the ovaries.  

“Typically, surgery is followed by chemotherapy which for many women can be quite grueling. Unfortunately, over time, ovarian tumours can build resistance to chemotherapy and the treatment becomes merely life extending rather than life saving.    

“Ovarian cancer’s shocking mortality rate coupled with an incredibly high recurrence rate of 70 per cent for women with advanced cancer means women face significant levels of distress with more than 40 per cent experiencing clinical levels of anxiety and depression.

“Having Ovarian Cancer Nurses in all major gynaecological oncology treatment centres in Australia, will ensure women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will experience better continuity and specialised care, resulting in better outcomes, improved quality of life and reduction of high levels of distress.  

“Most importantly, Ovarian Cancer Nurses will offer emotional support for Australians living with an ovarian cancer diagnosis, during the most challenging and vulnerable time of their lives. McGrath Breast Care Nurses are a well-known example of this model,” Ms Hill said.  

According to Ms Hill, Ovarian Cancer Australia is the only organisation to provide direct support to Australians impacted by ovarian cancer and will work closely with Ovarian Cancer Nurses to ensure women diagnosed with the disease in rural and regional areas receive the support and care they need.

“For women in rural and regional areas where specialised face-to-face ovarian cancer services and support may not exist, Ovarian Cancer Nurses will automatically link women to Ovarian Cancer Australia’s Case Management Team and other Ovarian Cancer Australia psychosocial support services for ongoing support and treatment after their initial surgical treatment,” Ms Hill said.  

Ovarian cancer survivor, partner at Deloitte and Ovarian Cancer Australia Board Member, Meghan Speers said; “Supporting women diagnosed with ovarian cancer via funding for awareness and research – goes without saying.  But the psychological support for women and their families, is so very important too,” Ms Speers said. 

“I was 29 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer and like many women, I was misdiagnosed – my GP thought I was pregnant. A later ultrasound found an ectopic mass that was in fact a 13cm malignant tumour on my right ovary.   

“Enduring further surgery and chemotherapy, the journey was a lonely and scary one. There was no specific ovarian cancer support at my hospital, I was the youngest on the ward by a long way, and my cancer was the one people whispered about.   

“I knew too acutely what my own mortality felt like and I didn’t know how to reconcile it in my own heart. So many amazing women had lost their battles with ovarian cancer and my survivor guilt was at times unbearable.

“It was then that I reached out to Ovarian Cancer Australia for support. They connected me with women who had walked in my shoes – all of whom played and continue to play a huge role in my survival.  My survival has come with setbacks and more operations, but a sense of always moving forward.  

“Ovarian Cancer Nurses will be the embodiment of Ovarian Cancer Australia’s vision that no woman with ovarian cancer walks alone,” Ms Speers concluded.  

In February 2019, the Australian Government granted $1.67 million to fund a case management program at Ovarian Cancer Australia to provide better access to psychosocial support via a telehealth service for women with ovarian cancer, particularly in rural and regional areas. 

In 2020, 1500 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer and it is estimated that more than 1000 will die. Only 46 per cent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer will be alive five years post diagnosis.  

Australians can ovary-act and show their support for Australians impacted by the disease by purchasing and wearing a teal ribbon on Ovarian Cancer Australia’s flagship day - Teal Ribbon Day - on Wednesday 26 February. Teal ribbons are available for $3 from TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacies, Black Pepper stores nationally, or selected Wynstan stores, as well as from Ovarian Cancer Australia.

Acknowledgement flags

Ovarian Cancer Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land where our office is located, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation and we pay our respects to Elders past and present.