Australian author: increasing public awareness about ovarian CA can have downside

The Croakey blog posts a column by Marian Pitts, Director of the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at LaTrobe University. She writes:

“On an almost daily basis we are bombarded with health messages, many of them encouraging us to monitor ourselves for worrying signs that might be signals of an underlying problem.

Ovarian cancer is the latest in a long line of such concerns. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in Australia; and it has a poor five-year survival rate of only 42%. Many cases of ovarian cancer are undiagnosed until an advanced stage of the disease.

Against this backdrop, a National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre survey has shown that one in five women can’t name one symptom of ovarian cancer.

This has formed the basis of a public health campaign to raise awareness of the cancer and its associated symptoms.

The trouble is that the symptoms that may signal an underlying cancer are vague, non-specific and, as our study has found, extremely common in the general population.

…how can we deliver a message that does not just increase women’s anxiety, lead to unnecessary consultations and, in some cases, lead to unnecessary interventions and investigations?

We may be doing more harm than good to the general population, in our understandable desire to detect this so-called silent killer early enough to improve survival rates.”

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Dee Sparacio

July 23, 2011 at 9:32 am

I have enjoyed reading your recent blog posts on tweeting and media reporting on cancer screening information.
As an ovarian cancer survivor I feel that it is important for women to be aware of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and just as important that those women be aware that those symptoms can mimic other diseases. What also needs to be clarified is that to date there is no screening test for the general population for ovarian cancer – not CA-125 , not ultrasounds. Too many women are angry that there are no recommendations for CA-125 & ultrasound to be used during a woman’ annual gyn physical. Where was the media blitz when the Prostate, Lung and Ovarian Cancer study ( as reported at ASCO) showed that the ultrasound and CA-125 did not affect a women’s overall mortality?
I have noticed that the general media reports those initial screening studies yet very seldom is there a follow-up story – especially when the results of the studies are not positive. You might actually find more of those follow-up stories on the financial pages.
I look forward to reading more of your insightful posts. Thanks.