[approx. 4 min read]
Why we are calling for equality in reproductive cancer funding from the government this International Women’s Day.
Ovarian cancer continues to be the most lethal of all reproductive cancers. Out of breast, cervical, uterine, vaginal, vulva, testicular, penile and prostate cancers, ovarian cancer five-year survival rates remain as the lowest. There is just a 48% chance that patients diagnosed today, will be alive in five years’ time.
At the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, our aim is for all women and girls to be free from the threat of ovarian cancer; however, the statistics and majority of prognoses continue to be truly life-threatening.
Why? Because there is a disproportionate weight of funding by the Australian Government into research for these other reproductive cancers. The weight of funding is channelled into the most common cancers rather than the most lethal.
What history does show is that when there is government backing into cancer research, the statistics reflect this and change for good – when cancer funding by the government increases, survivability rates increase.
It’s now ovarian cancers turn, the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation no longer wants to see ovarian cancer patients stand less than half a chance. With around 1,720 new Australian women and girls each year diagnosed with ovarian cancer, they begin an outdated treatment regime that hasn’t changed significantly since 1992. Intense chemotherapy without a clear understanding of whether this approach is suitable or effective for their specific cancer strain results in these women suffering needlessly. Ovarian cancer continues to be one of the most lethal and least understood cancers affecting women in Australia and around the world.
The Impact the Federal Government Has on Cancer Treatments
Yes; it takes organisations, communities and the government to see change.
The OCRF fills a significant gap in the funding landscape in Australia, providing funding to many innovative research projects that would otherwise go unfunded. We give early (and later) stage research projects the opportunity to progress to proof-of-concept and clinical trial stages. The OCRF has fundraised millions of dollars over the years from our incredibly generous community and in turn, seen a multitude of ovarian cancer research projects get ‘off the ground.’ However, ovarian cancer research cannot be sustained only by the communities directly impacted, or the devastated families of those we lose each year. Government backing is still instrumental in seeing a significant shift in cancer research and treatment development. The proof? It is in the proverbial pudding.
This is no surprise, given the Australian Government accounted for 74% of all cancer research funding ($187 million) between 2016-2018 alone.
A funding comparison: ovarian cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer
For further context, the cancers that have seen the most funding from the Australian Government, have seen considerable improvements in survivability, and rightly so. Breast and prostate cancers are the 1st and 5th most funded cancers in Australia, respectively. Breast cancer is the highest philanthropically funded cancer, alongside brain cancer and children’s cancer, receiving 21% of cancer expenditure for females (including the national screening program), while prostate cancer receives 13% of cancer expenditure on males. Currently, ovarian cancer sits as the 18th most funded cancer in Australia.
Improved Ovarian Cancer Survival Rates as a Result of Government Funding
Today, the five-year survival rate for both breast and prostate cancer sits above 90% – they weren’t always this high. In 2000, the survival rate for breast cancer was 72% and prostate was 88%. In 2000, five-year survival rates for ovarian cancer were just 40%.
So, what’s happened since 2000, regarding government funding into these cancers?
In the period of 2006 to 2011, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, haematological cancers and genitourinary cancers (this does not include ovarian) received the highest levels of funding in Australia.
In this same time, three quarters of the government’s allocated cancer research scholarship funding ($20.6 million) and more than half of fellowships funding ($136 million) went to breast, leukaemia, colon, rectum and prostate and lung cancers.
Today, the breast cancer five-year survival is 92% and prostate cancer 96% – these remarkable figures prove it can be done – government intervention by way of funding helps move the dial, when it comes to survivability. For further comparison, scholarship and fellowship funding combined for ovarian cancer was $5.95 million, prostate $13.4 million and breast $35.2 million for the years 2006-2011.
Ovarian cancer five-year survival rates can be improved from 48%, which is still below the total average five-year survival rate of all cancers observed in 1975.
However, the OCRF cannot change this alone.
A Low Survival Cancer with Limited Research Funding
Ovarian cancer continues to be one of the most lethal and least understood cancers affecting women. While many cancers have seen survival rates improve substantially over the modern cancer research era, ovarian cancer has not. Its rarity, compared to other reproductive cancers, is an influencing factor into why governments have underinvested in ovarian cancer research. But that is not reason enough to see a continuous poor survival outlook for women diagnosed today with ovarian cancer.
This International Women’s Day, we are speaking up for the silent disease that is leaving women with less than half a chance of survival. The Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation wants to #breakthebias – we need more funding to change ovarian cancer’s languishing low survivability rates. This is why we are calling for equality in reproductive cancer funding by the government.
It’s now ovarian cancers turn.