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An image from Ovarian Cancer Canada’s campaign.
An image from Ovarian Cancer Canada’s campaign.

Is Ovarian Cancer Canada’s ‘ladyball’ campaign sexist or a call to action? Add to ...

Ladyballs are the new ovaries.

As in, do you have the #ladyballs to talk about ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest women’s cancer in Canada?

The move is part of a bold new campaign by Ovarian Cancer Canada to raise the profile of a disease that is often in the shadow of more well-known illnesses, notably breast cancer. The cancer charity purposefully chose a word they knew would evoke an emotional response and start a discussion, even if it generated some controversy along the way. So far, it seems to have worked.

Karen Cinq Mars, vice-president of marketing at Ovarian Cancer Canada, said she has had more conversations about ovarian cancer in the last three days than she had during her previous seven years at the charity.

“It’s doing some amazing breakthrough work,” she said.

On Twitter, many are responding positively to the new campaign, which recently rolled out on social media and in commercials asking women to have the “ladyballs” to do something about their ovarian cancer risk.

But a vocal minority are questioning whether the term “ladyballs” sends the wrong message by setting a sexist tone.

Cinq Mars said the group was prepared to hear such criticism. Not that it will change their minds.

“There’s risk when you do something risky,” she said. “Even in our focus groups, in our testing, we knew there was going to be this backlash, or some disruption in the discussion.”

Technically speaking, “ladyballs” isn’t a bad descriptor. Ovaries are the female gonads, much like the testicles are male gonads. Of course, when someone asks whether you have “the balls” to do something, the reference is to the male anatomy. The idea being that balls are connected to bravery, courage and strength.

So, is the new campaign inappropriate and sexist, or a playful tongue-in-cheek call to action to women across the country?

That question misses the point. Very few women are aware of the risks of ovarian cancer or the fact there is no screening test to detect the disease. (No, Pap smears don’t count. Those are used to detect cervical cancer.)

And besides, it makes perfect sense to scrutinize charitable campaigns, such as the behemoth pink-ribbon breast cancer movement, which sees some questionable links between corporations and charities in the name of “raising awareness.” Or to raise questions about campaigns that promote screening that may do more harm than good – such as Movember’s support of the prostate-specific antigen test for prostate cancer.

It will be important to watch how Ovarian Cancer Canada handles the newfound attention. But right now, it’s hard to find fault with trying to make more women aware of a brutal disease that typically goes undetected until it’s in the later stages. More than half of all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer won’t survive beyond five years.

So what do women need to know about ovarian cancer?

  • The risk of developing the disease rises for women over age 50, and those with a family history of ovarian, breast, endometrial or colorectal cancer, those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and those with a genetic predisposition, such as the BRCA gene mutation.
  • The risk goes down for those using oral contraceptives, those who have had a full-term pregnancy, those whose ovaries and/or fallopian tubes have been removed and women who have had a tubal ligation.
  • There is no screening test for ovarian cancer and symptoms are easy to miss. That’s why Ovarian Cancer Canada says to watch out for bloating, difficulty eating, abdominal discomfort and changes in urinary habits that persist for three weeks or more. See your doctor and bring a list of your concerns.
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