On the 19th of July, we are meeting with the Health Select Committee at parliament, to call for the urgent improvements to the diagnosis, treatment and research of ovarian cancer that are needed to help save women’s lives.
Misdiagnosis, a lack of funded treatment and clinical trials, and a lack of research are all problems we highlighted in our submission to parliament last year. We are frustrated that simple steps the government could take to drastically improve the state of ovarian cancer in NZ are being overlooked. One action we would like to see quickly implemented is the incorporation of ovarian cancer symptoms education into the cervical screening program so women know what symptoms to look out for.
As the leading cause of gynaecological cancer death, ovarian cancer kills more women than all other gynaecological cancers combined, including cervical cancer. Every week in New Zealand, seven women are diagnosed and five women die of the disease. Our founder Jane Ludemann says the situation is tragic. “Women are being failed in the worst possible way.” New Zealand has the worst emergency diagnosis rates of comparable health systems and survival rates lag behind Australia, with just 36.3% of women surviving five years compared to 43.2% in Australia.
“It breaks my heart to hear all the stories of wāhine visiting their doctor again and again, only to be told ‘it’s nothing serious’, ‘it’s just constipation’, or a mental health problem without adequate investigation.” Ovarian cancer is detected with a CA-125 blood test and ultrasound. Official information act requests by the charity in 2021 found that women can have waits upwards of several months for ultrasounds, and in some situations referrals from GPs are declined outright.
Jane says that once diagnosed, most women receive the same treatments as women diagnosed with ovarian cancer thirty years ago. Newer treatments such as Bevacizumab and Caelyx have languished on Pharmac’s waiting list for over ten years despite being funded in Australia, while clinical trials in New Zealand are almost non-existent. “It’s incredibly difficult for ovarian cancer to compete with scarce Pharmac funding against diseases which receive significantly more research and investment.”
Ovarian cancer is the least survivable women’s cancer with survival rates less than half those of breast and prostate cancer. Jane says improvements to survival rates have been slow due to a lack of research. A Te Aho o Te Kahu report found that ovarian cancer received the least funding of any cancer funded by the Health Research Council. It is also disproportionately underfunded overseas.
We want to see ovarian cancer symptoms education added to the cervical screening program, funding for ultrasounds, additional treatments to be funded, more clinical trials to be made available, and an investment of five to ten million dollars a year in research.
“It might seem like a lot to ask for at once, but these changes are well overdue. Too many women have died waiting. It’s time we finally do something about it.”
You can watch the livestream of the presentation to the Health Select Committee at Parliament via the HSC Facebook page at 8:35am Wednesday 19 July.