OCC appears before the House of Commons Standing Committee for its first-ever Women’s Health Study

On February 12, 2024, Tania Vrionis, CEO, Ovarian Cancer Canada (OCC), and Valerie Dinh, Regional Director, Quebec, OCC, were called to appear before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) for its first-ever Women’s Health Study.

OCC highlighted for the Committee three of the challenges and associated opportunities regarding ovarian cancer from prevention to diagnosis to treatment:

  • Prevention is the most effective way to impact ovarian cancer incidence and outcomes now.
    • There is no screening test for this disease. An estimated 20-25% of ovarian cancers are known to be hereditary and identifying those at high risk through genetic testing and offering preventive or risk-reducing options will have the greatest impact on saving lives now. We must maximize and optimize the identification of individuals at increased genetic risk, through timely and equitable access to genetic testing.
  • Access to primary care is essential to diagnose ovarian cancer in a timely manner.
    • Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect given its vague, nonspecific symptoms, and primary healthcare providers must be supported in recognizing symptoms and knowing the appropriate tests to order. This will ensure patients are referred to a cancer centre for a definitive diagnosis. Canadians must have access to primary care, and physicians and nurses must be supported in identifying and responding to ovarian cancer symptoms.
  • Traditional research funding mechanisms have failed to create significant progress in ovarian cancer; however, OCC and the ovarian cancer research community are making advancements quicker and more efficiently.
    • In 2019, the Canadian government took the bold step of entrusting OCC with a $10 million investment towards a new ovarian cancer research model. Through this new model, researchers are now working collaboratively and continuously building on one another’s progress.

Watch the HESA meeting highlights

OCC’s Tania Vrionis and Valerie Dinh delivered an opening statement and answered questions from Members of Parliament. OCC representatives, Dr. Shannon Salvador, President-Elect of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada, Dr. Gillian Hanley, Associate Professor, University of British Columbia, and Dr. Jessica McAlpine, Professor and Division Head, University of British Columbia urged the government to act on the most pressing issues impacting those with gynecologic cancers.

“There is a lot of incredible [research] work going on, but this has only been happening for five years. That’s a really short time in the span of research. Just to put it in context, 25 years ago there were only three ovarian cancer scientists in all of Canada. Today there are 250-plus. We have some ground to make up, but we’re making it up,” said Tania Vrionis during the question-and-answer period. “However, [this research] can only continue with the necessary funding in order to drive that forward.”

OCC’s opening statement, answers, and written submission will help inform the Women’s Health Study report that the committee will write. This report can impact and influence future policy decisions and government priorities.

“Women who don’t have a family doctor and are diagnosed with ovarian cancer often find themselves in emergency situations. They are diagnosed later, which is associated with a poorer prognosis and a lower survival rate,” said Valerie Dinh, during the question-and-answer period. “In addition to the issue of access to family doctors, it’s also important to talk about raising their awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer so that they can properly recognize the symptoms, which are very vague and not specific.”

OCC’s advocacy efforts combined with the research, clinical, and patient community, ensure that the most pressing issues impacting ovarian cancer patients are being heard by the Government of Canada and important decision makers.

In fact, OCC was mentioned in the Government of Canada’s Health Department Plan as one of the ways they are combatting cancer.

“I am very pleased to see reference to OCC in Health Canada’s 2024-2025 Departmental Plan signaling the Government of Canada’s continued support of ovarian cancer research and confidence in OCC,” says Tania Vrionis.

Eight women a day are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in Canada, with 75% diagnosed late stage. Ovarian cancer’s five-year survival rate is only 44%. Four out of the eight women diagnosed today will not be here in five years.  There is no screening test. There is no definitive diagnostic test. There are few treatment options. Women deserve better and OCC is here to demand action, deliver change, and transform lives.