A future for all women

With research into one of “the most lethal and least understood cancers affecting women in Australia and around the world” being of vital importance, in line with February’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we speak with Lucinda Nolan, CEO of the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation, to learn about the organisation and its crucial work towards freeing women “everywhere from the threat of” this horrible disease.

Tell us a little about your background. How did you come to work at the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF)?

My background is emergency services, where I spent most of my career with Victoria Police, and then moved to the Country Fire Authority. I knew one of the directors on the OCRF board, who tested my interest in joining the OCRF. My sister-in-law, Jane, and my godmother both died of ovarian cancer, so it was a cause I was very interested in. The whole team at OCRF are very passionate and motivated to make a real difference, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

What is OCRF, how did it come about, and what is its aim/purpose?  

This year, the OCRF celebrates its 21st birthday, so a real coming of age for the organisation and, most importantly, for the cause. The OCRF’s vision is that every woman, everywhere, is free from the threat of ovarian cancer and we seek to achieve this by funding innovative ovarian cancer research to save women’s lives through early detection and personalised treatment.

What are the goals of the OCRF?

Our three goals are:

  • Develop and implement an early-detection program for ovarian cancer that is non-invasive, highly accurate and widely available.
  • Improve the mortality rate, management and long-term survival of women with ovarian cancer.
  • Attract and fund the most innovative and skilled researchers.

How does OCRF assist women with ovarian cancer and their families?

We offer hope and a future for all women. The OCRF is the largest non-governmental funder of ovarian cancer research in Australia, and the major funder overall of research into early detection and diagnosis.

The OCRF has a clear research strategy to significantly shift the current low survival rates for women with ovarian cancer. Importantly, we invest in research that will assist women today, as well as make a significant investment to save the next generation of women. Unquestionably, investment in cancer research translates into significant improvements in survival. Only research will save the lives of today’s and tomorrow’s generation of women. 

Why is early detection so important when it comes to ovarian cancer?

The most significant barrier to improving survival outcomes for women with ovarian cancer is the lack of an early detection test. This is because ovarian cancer is known as the ‘silent killer’ – the symptoms are often absent or vague and mimic common female complaints.  Developing an early detection test for the next generation of women has the potential to double the current survival rate (to in excess of 90%) and save the lives of more than 8000 Australian women over a decade. Globally, an early detection test could save the lives of more than 1.3 million women.

What research is underway in this space?

There’s really exciting research underway and, although I may be biased, I believe that Australian researchers are leading the world in this area.

The key areas that will save most women’s lives are:

  • Personalised treatments or precision medicine approaches – treating the Individual’s type of ovarian cancer, rather than one size fits all, and looking at ways to prevent or reduce metastasis (spread of cancer) and chemoresistance.
  • Management of recurrence – ovarian cancer often recurs within 18 months of the initial treatment and quickly develops chemoresistance. OCRF researchers are looking at other therapeutic options, as well as how they can make chemotherapy more effective.
  • Early detection – the development of a test similar to a pap smear is the most promising research currently funded by the OCRF (stay tuned for some very exciting news).
  • Prevention and cure.

How can people get involved in supporting OCRF?

There are many ways to support the OCRF – either generally, during February (with Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month), or during the White Shirt Campaign. Raising funds to provide strong and sustainable funding to our researchers is paramount, and we’re more than happy to assist in whatever form that takes.

We’re launching our regular giving program this month, which gives an exciting inside view of the working of research laboratories and where research is at. We’re also in a position to support local community campaigns, events or functions, including workplace giving opportunities. If people are interested in contributing to a more positive future for all women, please contact us at community@ocrf.com.au.

To read the full feature as it appears in this month’s issue of Retail Pharmacy Assistants magazine, visit: rpassistants.com.au/magazines.