Understanding Ovarian and Cervical Cancer: Insights from Dr Rhett Morton

28 February 2024

As we observe Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month this February, it's essential to delve into the realities of gynaecological cancers, particularly ovarian and cervical cancers.

As we observe Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month this February, it's essential to delve into the realities of gynaecological cancers, particularly ovarian and cervical cancers.

Gynaecological Oncologist and Gynaecologist Dr Rhett Morton sheds light on the prevalence, challenges, and promising developments in the field.

Ovarian Cancer: A silent threat

Ovarian cancer, along with other gynaecological cancers such as fallopian tube, peritoneum, and endometrial cancers, pose a significant health risk to women.

In 2023 across Australia, approximately 1,800 women were diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 1,000 women with ovarian cancer died of their disease.

The survival rate for ovarian cancer today is the same as the overall survival rate for all cancers combined in 1975, highlighting the urgent need for progress in research and treatment.

High grade serous cancer, originating in the fallopian tube, comprises the majority of ovarian cancer cases.

It presents most often at an advanced stage, given it causes often minor or non-specific symptoms resulting in late diagnosis. Symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, weight changes, and abnormal vaginal bleeding may not occur until late in the disease course and can be attributed to other causes, leading to delayed detection.

However, there is hope on the horizon. Recent advancements, particularly in targeted therapies such as PARP inhibition therapy, represent a significant breakthrough in ovarian cancer treatment.

This novel approach, which targets the DNA repair mechanism of cancer cells, has shown remarkable success in reducing the risk of recurrence, slowing disease progression and improving outcomes.

Cervical Cancer: a success story in prevention and screening

In contrast to ovarian cancer, cervical cancer presents a unique opportunity for prevention and elimination. With 600,000 new cases worldwide and a significant mortality rate, cervical cancer remains a global health concern. However, Australia stands as a beacon of progress in prevention, screening, and treatment.

High-risk HPV types, primarily HPV 16 and 18, play a central role in the development of cervical cancer.

Through widespread vaccination and screening programs, Australia has made significant strides in reducing the burden of this preventable disease.

By targeting both genders for vaccination and implementing robust screening measures, including the recent introduction of primary HPV testing, Australia aims to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem by 2030.

Dr Morton emphasises the importance of addressing inequities in access to care, particularly among indigenous communities, migrants, regional and remote communities and other marginalised groups.

Looking Ahead: A Path to Progress

In conclusion, early detection and access to innovative treatments are crucial in the fight against ovarian cancer. With ongoing research and the advent of targeted therapies, there is renewed hope for improving survival rates and quality of life for women diagnosed with this challenging disease.

Similarly, the elimination of cervical cancer hinges on continued investment in vaccination, screening, and treatment. By prioritizing this as well as focusing on equity and accessibility, Australia is paving the way towards achieving elimination targets by 2030.

All patients need support during and after treatment. The Wesley Hospital is unique in being the home of the Choices Cancer Support Centre that provides invaluable resources and support to patients, offering counselling, wellness programs, and complementary services to enhance the quality of life throughout the cancer journey.

As we commemorate Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, let us reaffirm our commitment to raising awareness, supporting research, and advocating for improved care for all those affected by gynaecological cancers. With determination and collaboration, we can strive towards a future where these diseases no longer claim the lives of our loved ones.

Media Enquiries
General: wesley.media@uchealth.com.au
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