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Putting the spotlight on the whispering killer

Mystery and a lack of understanding surround ovarian cancer, but a team from QIMR will soon commence a study to understand this devastating disease better.

Associate Professor Penny Webb from QIMR’s Gynaecological Cancer Group has been awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) project grant worth over $1.7 million to conduct the first comprehensive study of lifestyle factors that might improve survival for women with ovarian cancer.

“More than 1,200 Australian women are affected by ovarian cancer each year and the survival rates are quite poor,” Dr Webb said.

“With only 40% of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer surviving more than five years, women understandably want to know if there is anything they can do to help ensure they are one of the survivors. At the moment, the only answer is that we don’t know.

“From April 2012, my team and I will be carrying out the Ovarian Cancer Prognosis and Lifestyle (OPAL) study.

“Our aim is to interview more than 1000 women who have recently been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, to get a better understanding of how a woman’s lifestyle might influence her quality of life and, ultimately, survival.

“By doing this study we hope to be able to give women reliable advice, for the first time, regarding lifestyle changes that might improve their chances of beating this devastating disease.”

The OPAL study builds on QIMR’s strong involvement with ovarian cancer, including the recently conducted Australian Ovarian Cancer Study (AOCS) which, among other things, looked at the diagnosis experience of over 1,500 women.

“Ovarian cancer is sometimes referred to as the ‘whispering’ killer because the symptoms are very common and not specific for ovarian cancer,” Dr Webb said.

“Up to 75% of women diagnosed are in the later stages of the disease and it is commonly thought that this is because the diagnosis is often missed.

“To address this, we looked at the pathways women travelled from GPs to specialists and surgeons before being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and found that, in most cases, the disease is diagnosed fairly quickly and only a small proportion of women report a long delay. We also found that women whose cancers were diagnosed more slowly did not have more advanced disease than those who were diagnosed quickly.

“With so many unknowns about ovarian cancer, studies such as OPAL are essential to increase our Donate to QIMR nowknowledge and will hopefully mean that fewer women will die from ovarian cancer in the future.”


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