Health / Wellbeing

Ovarian cancer is the deadliest female cancer – we still don’t have a screening test

For those who've lost someone to ovarian cancer, they know how truly devastating this disease can be. Any female diagnosed with ovarian cancer today will only have a 49 percent chance of surviving the next five years.

But why? Why is it that the five year survival rate of breast cancer is 92 percent? That for cervical cancer it's 74 percent? But for females with cervical cancer, their five year survival is less than even?

The answer, of course, is complex. First of all, the symptoms of ovarian cancers aren't always obvious. Things like fatigue, indigestion, lower back pain or bloating as some potential symptoms. Unfortunately, these are extremely common symptoms for anyone who menstruates and can simply be part of a normal day in the life. The Cancer Council's ovarian cancer page highlights that "symptoms that may indicate ovarian cancer are vague," and that "these symptoms are often related to more common, less serious health problems and most women will have these symptoms at some time."

Secondly, our available tests are not where they needs to be. Let's say you had some persistent bloating and wanted to be tested for ovarian cancer, there is a blood test called CA125 that you can take. CA125 is a protein that can be indicative of ovarian cancer cells. But elevated CA125 proteins in the blood are also indicative of menstruation, endometriosis or ovarian cysts. If elevated levels are discovered, they're easily attributed to one of these other common conditions.

Likewise, not all females with ovarian cancer have elevated CA125 levels. In fact, half of all females with early stage ovarian cancer will not have elevated protein levels at all. As a result, the CA125 is not a recommended or effective screening test - especially not for women with no symptoms.

Some groups are at an increased risk for ovarian cancer. Females with a family history or who have Ashkenazi Jewish heritage could be more likely develop ovarian cancer. But only five to 10 percent of ovarian cancer cases are linked to a family history. Unfortunately, if you are someone at an increased risk and you want to monitor and regularly screen for ovarian cancer, there is no evidence that this leads to a reduced mortality. Simply, because there is no effective test to detect ovarian cancers in the early stages.

By the time ovarian cancer can be effectively diagnosed, it's usually too late. It's a scary realisation for anyone with female anatomy.

World Ovarian Cancer Day takes place each year on 8 May. It's a day to raise awareness that one Australian female dies every eight hours from ovarian cancer. That for 70 percent of cases, the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body by the time its diagnosed. It's a day to talk to your friends, sisters and mothers and to take a moment to check in with your sisterhood.

If you can support, a blood donation and especially a monetary donation can help support ovarian cancer research, and the quest for an early detection test.


Impactful donation opportunities can be found below:


For more information, try these resources:


Stay inspired, follow us.


*Editor’s note: in the context of this article, we use “female” to denote people with anatomically female sex characteristics. We use “women” to denote gender and to refer to people who identify as women. There may be exceptions when language is taken from a direct quote.