World Ovarian Cancer Day, celebrated this year on Wednesday, 8 May, is an opportunity for everyone—researchers, survivors, and supporters—to come together and raise their voices in solidarity to shine a light on this disease.
A representative for all OCRF-funded researchers and 2019 White Shirt Campaign Ambassador, Dr Maree Bilandzic, shared her thoughts on why a career in ovarian cancer research is so challenging, yet so potentially rewarding, during the White Shirt Campaign launch at Witchery Head Office.
“There is nothing nice I can really say about ovarian cancer; it is a completely devastating disease. The real sombre fact is that on days like today—and in fact, every single day of this year—four Australian Women will be receiving an ovarian cancer diagnosis and three will lose their battle. This is every single day of the year.”
It is true that today, the statistics are still dire.
Dr Bilandzic continued that 75% of her patients are diagnosed with late-stage disease on first clinical presentation.
And the journey to diagnosis is no easy one; at the moment, surgery is the only way. Patients go under the knife, and most of the time, require drastic debulking on the spot—removing all diseased tissue, which in most cases means a hysterectomy. They wake up to the conclusive diagnosis of ovarian cancer and the devastating news that they have had parts of themselves removed. Instead of recovering, they are subjected to intensive chemotherapy. And after all that, 90% of these women will have their cancer return within 18 months, with a terminal prognosis.
But with ongoing funding through the OCRF and campaigns like the White Shirt Campaign, Dr Bilandzic and others are making exciting headway.
In fact, Dr Bilandzic and her team are now approaching clinical trial for an early detection test for ovarian cancer.
“We have identified a small change that occurs in ovarian cancer patients and it occurs early—I liken the change to having a 100% cotton shirt and two stitches that are 98%—it’s different and we need to be able to accurately detect it. Because this finding is entirely new, we have had to essentially build this test from scratch, but it is now at a stage where it is being tested on women who have a predisposition to ovarian cancer."
If we can catch the cancer in its early stages, the chance of survival for patients increases dramatically from the 30% that patients currently face to 90% over five years.”
2019 White Shirt Campaign Ambassador
In a final, compelling message to all supporters this World Ovarian Cancer Day, Dr Bilandzic said:
“You are giving a voice to so many women who have fought so hard against the disease. You are honouring women who have lost their battle, and giving a voice to those currently battling. You have provided a voice to the disease that whispers. For that, thank you so much.”