Loud call to understand ignored killer this February

It’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness month in February, and there’s a group of women out to make as much noise about it as possible.

Incorrectly labelled as one of the silent killer cancers, ovarian cancer often isn’t identified until it has spread significantly, and as a result, there is just a 42% survival rate beyond five years.

That’s why the Ovarian Cancer Support Group, a collective of some 90 women who have or have had the disease, believe it’s about time the message is shared widely to New Zealand women. As well as telling their own stories, they’ve produced a poster that’s being sent to every GP surgery in New Zealand, outlining symptoms.

Spokesperson Lisa Finucane says that ovarian cancer isn’t so much silent – just often not heard in the hubbub of daily life. And not just because gynaecological issues aren’t usually discussed outside of the doctors’ surgery.

“There are clear symptoms of this cancer and it’s so important that women and their GPs consider ovarian cancer as a possibility when they experience them, “she believes.

“The four main symptoms are: persistent stomach/pelvic pain, persistent bloating, difficulty eating/feeling full more quickly, and needing to wee more frequently. Alongside these are back pain, changes in bowel habits (going more often or a lot less), abnormal vaginal bleeding, and extreme tiredness for no obvious reason.

“For most women these will have another, less serious cause. But, for some these are the early warning of ovarian cancer, and if they are overlooked, either by the GP or the person experiencing them, the outcome can be devastating.”

With her sister, Rachel Brown co-founded the New Zealand Gynaecological Cancer Foundation and then the Ovarian Cancer Support Group, following the death of their mother from ovarian cancer more than 10 years ago. She says that many cases are unnecessarily slow to be diagnosed. That’s why the most important thing, she says, is for women to understand their bodies’ warning signs, to monitor them, and to persist in advising their health providers about the symptoms.

“We want to encourage any woman to act if she has those symptoms, particularly if they are ongoing, severe, frequent, or out of the ordinary.

“We want women to know to see their GPs as soon as possible and to keep a record of the symptoms to help support a speedier diagnosis. There are online symptom diaries and phone apps available which can help provide more clarity around the severity and regularity of symptoms.

“This could be the difference between a cancer that is contained and can be treated, to one that has spread and frankly has a very serious consequence.”

Unlike many cancers which have made significant survival advances in recent decades, the mortality rate for ovarian cancer is still close to 60% of women dying within five years of diagnosis. In comparison, women with breast cancer fare considerably better, with mortality rates reducing from 47% to 13% in the same time frame.

Ovarian cancer lags behind breast cancer for several reasons including lack of funding for research, and late diagnosis contributed to by lack of symptom awareness.

“The statistics show that about one in 70 women in will get ovarian cancer,” says Rachel.  “Increasing awareness about the symptoms should mean that a higher percentage of these will be diagnosed earlier when treatment is more likely to be successful.  And that’s what we are aiming for.

“It’s time that we talked about symptoms of this and other gynae cancers, the same way we are comfortable talking about breast lumps and dodgy moles. Awareness leads to better vigilance – and will save lives.”



Note to editors

If you would to be put in contact with a woman in your region who is willing to talk to you about her own experience with ovarian cancer, please contact:

Rachel Brown – 021 606 960 /

Lisa Finucane – 021 677 216 / 


Ovarian cancer – the facts and fallacies 

  • Anyone woman, any age, any ethnicity can get ovarian cancer – this includes children, women who have had hysterectomies, and pre-and post-menopause.
  • It is not detected by cervical screening, nor is the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine (available to girls in New Zealand) a prevention for ovarian cancer
  • Evidence suggests taking the contraceptive pill reduces risk while some lifestyle factors may increase the chances of developing it. These include smoking, obesity, giving birth to your first child after 30, not having any children, not breastfeeding, and using HRT. Other contributing factors include a family history of breast, ovarian or colorectal cancer, getting older, and having endometriosis.  (



ovarian cancer awareness illusration A4 [image]