Call for solo ovarian cancer campaign

Una Crudden has been tirelessly campaigning to promote awareness of the condition, after she was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer in December 2009.

She is calling for a solo campaign focussed on ovarian cancer instead of more general awareness information.

As part of her Teal Takeover, she is asking people to post pictures of themselves wearing the colour – one of the first to do so was deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who showed his support with his choice of tie.

Belfast City Hall will also be lit up in the campaign colour on Monday evening to highlight the cause.

“This is the only way the levels are going to be brought down,” she told UTV.

“A lot of women are being misdiagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome and by the time they go to the doctors and get proper diagnosis, they are already terminally ill.

“Seventy-five per cent of women diagnosed have three to five years to live because of late diagnosis, so that’s why it’s so important to get it in the early stages. Getting it in the early stages is crucial and for women to the signs, to react quickly enough to save their lives.”

Unfortunately the disease is still widely known as the silent killer, with symptoms often not realised until the progression of the disease is too advanced. An ovarian cancer awareness campaign could allow much better survival rates.

Chris Lyttle, Alliance

She has received wide support for her campaign and party leaders have signed her petition but said she also needs support from the Public Health Agency.

The UK’s survival statistics for ovarian cancer are amongst the worst in Europe.

In Northern Ireland 178 women are diagnosed with the condition each year and 119 lose their lives.

Early diagnosis is key to survival, if diagnosed at the earliest stage, up to 90% of women would survive five years or more, compared to the current 36% of women.

No women in Northern Ireland said they were confident of the symptoms, which was even worse than the UK average of just 3%, according to a Target Ovarian Cancer study.

Health Minister Edwin Poots spoke at Monday’s event, which saw the great hall light up teal in recognition of ovarian cancer month.

He was joined by Frances Reid, Director of Public Affairs and Services at Target Ovarian Cancer, Maeve McLaughlin MLA, Assembly Health Committee Chair, as well as cancer charities, clinicians, consultants, GPs, women who have ovarian cancer and families who have lost relatives to the disease.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) is currently developing a cancer awareness campaign programme for Northern Ireland which will prioritise ovarian cancer as an area within the campaign programme.

Public Health Agency NI

It was hosted by Alliance East Belfast MLA Chris Lyttle, who said he supports Una’s call and urged the Health Minister to invest in a focussed campaign.

“Ovarian Cancer remains one of the most common causes of death from cancer in women, but if diagnosed at an early stage the outcome could be much better,” he said.

“In 2012 a Target Ovarian Cancer pathfinder study revealed women in Northern Ireland were among the least aware of signs of ovarian cancer. Despite this little action has been taken by the Health Department.

“It is clear from these figures that an awareness campaign would benefit women in Northern Ireland and has the potential to save lives – which was recognised by the assembly in 2013 when MLAs voted unanimously for such a campaign.

“I am looking forward to hosting the event alongside Una Crudden, who inspires everyone she meets with her dedication to raising awareness of ovarian cancer and the courage she shows in her own battle against the disease.”

UUP Health spokesperson, Roy Beggs has said that it is unacceptable that almost one year after an sssembly debate highlighting delays in diagnosing ovarian cancer, senior health officials have only now contacted local GPs highlighting NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidance and best practice.

The East Antrim MLA said: “One year ago Assembly Members were advised by Target Ovarian Cancer that 42% of GPs in Northern Ireland were unaware of the NICE guidance which had been issued two years earlier.

“I was shocked to learn that it was only this week, on the very day that Department of Health officials were presenting to the Assembly’s Health Committee on ovarian cancer, that a letter had finally been sent to local GPs.

“It is unacceptable that it has taken so long to bring about improvements and to highlight new tests to those GPs who were apparently unaware of NICE guidance.”

In a statement, The Public Health Agency (PHA) said it is currently developing a cancer awareness campaign programme for Northern Ireland which will address ovarian cancer.

A spokesperson explained:”In order to ensure that the programme is as effective as possible the PHA is evaluating current cancer awareness campaigns and conducting an evidence review. This review will determine which messages have the best effect and the best context in which these messages should be delivered.”

Ovarian Cancer: Key Symptoms

  • Persistent pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Increased abdominal size/persistent bloating
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (needing to go to the bathroom more urgently/often than usual)

Occasionally there can be other symptoms including changes in bowel habits, extreme fatigue, and unexplained weight loss.

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