Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023



The Hon. L.A. HENDERSON (15:31): Endometriosis Awareness Month is observed every March to increase the knowledge and understanding of an often debilitating condition that affects one in nine, or 200 million, women and girls worldwide. It is a condition where the tissue that is similar to tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of it, commonly on the ovaries, fallopian tubes and tissue lining the pelvis.

Even though it is not in the uterus, the cells still respond to signals from the ovaries. The endometriosis tissue thickens every month and then sheds and bleeds when the woman has a period. Over time this process can lead to inflammation and scarring, which can cause adhesions in organs.

Endometriosis is a progressive chronic condition. It can be cripplingly painful, can affect fertility and can prevent women from participating fully in education, work or sporting activities. The quality of life and productivity of women with this condition can be severely affected, including having a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. It can take an average of 6½ years for those living with endometriosis to be diagnosed and, in Australia, there are currently over 830,000 endometriosis patients.

The condition is frequently misdiagnosed or undiagnosed due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the symptoms. This is due to the similarity of some of the symptoms to menstrual symptoms or confusing endometriosis symptoms with menstrual symptoms. Common symptoms could include:

abdominal or pelvic pain before or during a period, during or after sex or when going to the toilet;

heavy periods or irregular bleeding;

bleeding from the bladder or bowel, or changes in urination or bowel movements, such as needing to urinate more frequently;

feeling bloated, with or without pain;

feeling tired, especially around the time of a woman's period; and

difficulty in getting pregnant.

It is important to note that not everyone with endometriosis will experience symptoms, with about 20 to 25 per cent of women with endometriosis without symptoms, which may contribute to the delay in diagnosis and ultimately may lead to infertility. In fact, 40 per cent of women with endometriosis experience infertility, and undiagnosed endometriosis compromises fertility treatment.

Raising awareness of endometriosis is crucial to improve early detection, reduce the diagnostic delay and improve outcomes for those affected by it. Endometriosis can be treated with medication, surgery and complementary treatments, such as physiotherapy and clinical psychology, which can help manage chronic pain. Treatment will depend on the woman's symptoms and the severity of her endometriosis.

Endometriosis is only diagnosed through cervical intervention, which is a crucial fact for the discussion of any symptoms with a medical practitioner, as that is not merely enough. Some of the key challenges with diagnosis are:

a lack of awareness;

delayed diagnosis;

the invasive nature of the diagnosis;

a lack of access to care if you are in certain geographic locations, have limited financial resources or do not have access to medical care or specialists who are knowledgeable about endometriosis; and

the stigma and dismissal of people who may think that these symptoms are normal or being exaggerated.

I would like to acknowledge the work of the Morrison Liberal government, particularly the former member for Boothby, Nicole Flint, for her work in this very important space. In 2018, the Morrison Liberal government launched the national action plan for endometriosis—Australia's first ever blueprint, seeking to improve the treatment, understanding and awareness of the disease. In 2020, the Morrison Liberal government provided a funding boost of $9.5 million to endometriosis research.

In 2022, the Morrison Liberal government made a $58 million budget commitment to help endometriosis. The four-year funding commitment for endometriosis, which included $16.4 million to establish two clinics in each state and territory, $5.1 million for early career research scholarships and $25.2 million for access to Medicare-funded MRI scanning, is the largest ever investment in endometriosis treatment and research in Australia.

This Endometriosis Awareness Month my thoughts go to the women and girls, no matter what stage of their endometriosis journey they may be on, to highlight the need for greater awareness: awareness of the symptoms, awareness of the treatment and, even more importantly, awareness of the stories of resilience, of hope and of recovery.