The gap in cancer care outcomes between rural and metropolitan Australia should begin to close significantly thanks to $560 million in the 2009-10 Budget to build a network of regional cancer centres.
Described by Cancer Council Australia and the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia (COSA) as “an unprecedented move by a Commonwealth Government”, the initiative is a highlight of the Rudd Government’s $2 billion cancer plan.
Cancer Council Australia Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ian Olver, and COSA President, Professor Bruce Mann, said their organisations had for a number of years sought a whole-of-government solution to the inequities in rural cancer care, which until the 2009-10 Budget announcement had been seen as a state issue.
“For the Government to make such a substantial investment in capital grants to build regional cancer centres shows they are serious about reducing inequities in cancer care outcomes and in working with other jurisdictions to put services where they are desperately needed,” Professor Olver said.
“It is an unprecedented move by a Commonwealth Government to show such a strong commitment to a national problem that has been well-documented, but until now has been seen largely as a state and territory issue.”
Professor Mann said Australians in rural and remote areas had poorer cancer survival rates than those in city areas, with outcomes worsening the further from a large population centre a patient lived.
“The best way to reduce the geographical disparity in cancer outcomes is to build capacity on the ground in regional areas – and this groundbreaking commitment from the Australian Government is set to do that,” Professor Mann said.
On World No Tobacco Day, (May 31), Cancer Council Australia called for the Australian Government to increase the size of graphic warnings on tobacco products.
Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Tobacco Issues Committee, Kylie Lindorff, said Australia lagged behind world’s best practice in key policy areas such as tobacco excise and graphic health warnings – the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day.
“With the Preventative Health Taskforce report expected to call for important measures such as an increase in tobacco excise and the use of larger graphic health warnings, World No Tobacco Day should prompt the Government to adopt these evidence-based recommendations.”
Ms Lindorff said the World Health Organisation observed World No Tobacco Day each year to highlight the enormous death and disease burden attributed to smoking – which remained by far the largest cause of premature death and disability internationally and in Australia.
“More than five million people worldwide die each year from tobacco-related disease, including more than 15,000 Australians,” she said.
“Australia has fallen behind many other countries, with warnings here occupying only 30 per cent of the front of the pack, compared with 50 per cent in many jurisdictions requiring graphic health images.
“With lung cancer now claiming the lives of more Australian women than breast cancer and an increasingly disproportionate tobacco disease burden falling on socially disadvantaged Australians, the Government should respond to the WHO’s World No Tobacco Day theme and adopt its own independent experts’ recommendations to review graphic warnings.”
New data on bowel cancer screening released in June highlighted the urgent need to fully implement screening for all Australians over 50, according to Cancer Council Australia.
An analysis of bowel cancers by Biogrid Australia shows the current screening program, limited to three age groups, has found double the number of bowel cancers at the most curable stage, compared with cancers found after reporting of symptoms.
“This data shows how effective a national screening program can be, yet the program is currently only available to 50, 55 and 65 year-olds,” said Professor Olver. “Five million Australians are missing out on a test that could help save their lives.”
According to the data, 41 per cent of cancers found through the program were at the most curable stage (stage A), compared with just 18 per cent found through testing people reporting symptoms.
Launching a new Cancer Council campaign – Get Behind Bowel Screening (www.getbehindbowelscreening.com.au) – which calls on the Government to extend screening to all Australians aged 50 and over, Professor Olver said the Biogrid data showed that bowel cancer screening found the majority of bowel cancers early, when treatment had the best chance of success.
“Not only are five million Australians currently missing out, current participants are only offered one-off screening. This is contrary to national health guidelines, which recommend screening at least every two years from the age of 50.”
Professor Olver said that according to conservative estimates, the Government could save the lives of more than 30 Australians each week by expanding the program to include all Australians 50 and over.
Cancer Council is calling on all Australians to log on to www.getbehindbowelscreening.com.au and send an email to pressure the Government to fully implement the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.
The Federal Opposition should be commended for supporting the increased excise on ready-to-drink spirit mixes because the tax could help prevent cancer deaths, Professor Olver said in June.
“While a comprehensive approach to alcohol control is required, sales data showed that the ‘alcopops’ tax was driving down net alcohol consumption, which on a population basis equates to reduced risk of alcohol-related cancers,” Professor Olver said.
“Around 1400 Australians die from alcohol-related cancers each year. This number could decrease significantly if the reductions in consumption that coincided with the ‘alcopops’ tax continue and are supported by other measures.”
“As well as links between alcohol and breast cancer, there is convincing evidence that alcohol consumption can lead to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus and liver,” Professor Olver said.
“With evidence showing that people who binge drink when young are at higher risk of becoming chronic consumers of alcohol, the ‘alcopops’ excise is an important step towards a long-term culture change.”
Patenting genetic sequences may stifle groundbreaking research in cancer treatment as well as restrict access to life-saving diagnostic procedures, a Senate hearing in Sydney was told in August.
Professor Olver and President of the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia (COSA), Professor Bruce Mann, stressed to a Senate inquiry that the current patent system allows human genetic material to be monopolised by commercial interests, posing a serious threat to cancer research and care.
Professor Olver, a medical oncologist and researcher, said genes and genetic products were the keys to a new field of cancer treatment that would target an individual patient’s cancer, maximising benefits and minimising side effects.
“Medical science will soon be able to tailor cancer treatments according to prognoses made from genetic analyses and with treatments that target genetic products,” he said.
“But our potential to profoundly improve patient outcomes may not be realised, if an outdated patent system continues to let commercial interests monopolise matter that naturally exists in our bodies.
“The Senate must put the public interest first and recommend that non-commercial use of genetic sequences is exempted from patent enforcement, as a first step towards changing the law to invalidate future gene patent claims.”
Professor Mann, a breast cancer surgeon representing more than 1200 cancer care professionals nationwide, said an Australian company’s now withdrawn claim to enforce its patent licence over the genetic tests for breast and ovarian cancer risk set an alarming precedent.
“Genetic Technologies Ltd’s demand for public laboratories to cease testing for genetic risk of breast and ovarian cancers was only a hint of how the fundamental flaws in gene patent law could undermine public health,” Professor Mann said.
Cancer Council Australia’s ‘Sally Birch Fellowship in Cancer Control (2009-11)’ has been awarded to Associate Professor Gordon Howarth, of the University of Adelaide.
Associate Professor Howarth is researching innovative approaches towards managing the problem of chemotherapy-induced intestinal muscositis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Professor Olver, welcomed the announcement and flagged the importance of the research. “Supporting patients on therapy by reducing the side-effects of treatment is important,” he said. It reduces the burden of treatment and can improve treatment outcomes.”
The Sally Birch Fellowship commenced in 2006 and is aimed at addressing current gaps in cancer control. The fellowship encompasses any intervention that will reduce the impact of cancer on the community, from primary cancer prevention to screening, diagnosis, treatment, support and palliative care. It is valued at $100,000 per annum for a period of three years.
The National Breast and Ovarian Cancer Centre has launched the Breast cancer specific data items for clinical cancer registration, aimed at improving the quality of data collected.
The National Health Data Dictionary recommends a core set of generic data items for clinical cancer registration however these often lack the detail required by groups interested in specific tumours.
In response, NBOCC has developed breast cancer specific data items for clinical cancer registration to facilitate comparative analysis, and where appropriate, data pooling.
The data items and data definitions were developed through a multidisciplinary working group, in consultation with key stakeholders. Where possible, these items and data definitions have been aligned with those already in use across Australia.
An NBOCC spokesperson said the organisation was committed to working in collaboration with key stakeholders to promote the adoption of the clinical minimum dataset for breast cancer, to help ensure a nationally consistent approach to data collection and reporting of breast cancer data.
Breast cancer specific data items for clinical cancer registration is available to download at www.nbocc.org.au/resources. Hard copies can be ordered by phoning 1800 624 973.
For more information contact Trenna Rowe at email@example.com or phone 02 9357 9439.
The Australian Government has committed $31 million over five years to provide reimbursement for both new and replacement external breast prostheses to Australian women who have had a mastectomy as a result of breast cancer.
The National External Breast Prostheses Reimbursement Program commenced on 24 November 2008 and is administered by Medicare Australia. Breast prostheses purchased from 1 July 2008 are eligible for reimbursement. The program provides a reimbursement of up to $400 for each new and replacement external breast prosthesis.
All women who are permanent residents of Australia, have a current Medicare entitlement and who have had a mastectomy as a result of breast cancer (may be recent or in the past) are eligible to claim the reimbursement. Department of Veterans’ Affairs card holders should continue to claim their entitlements through the department.
Claims for the reimbursement can be lodged by post or at any Medicare office, with reimbursement processed by electronic funds transfer to the claimant’s bank account.
Information about the program, including a fact sheet and claim form, are available on the Medicare Australia website www.medicareaustralia.gov.au/public/services/breast-prostheses.jsp, or by phoning Medicare Australia on 132 011 (call charges may apply), or visiting a Medicare Australia office.
As 2009 comes to a close, Cancer Council is celebrating yet another successful year of fundraising events.
From launching new national events, Daredallion and Call to Arms, to hosting our mainstays of Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea, Daffodil Day, Pink Ribbon Day, Girls Night In and Relay for Life, our supporters have gone above and beyond the call of duty, raising millions of dollars even as the world was worried about the Global Financial Crisis.
We would like to thank everyone who has been involved, whether you hosted an event, purchased merchandise or made a donation to the cause. Money raised plays a huge role in helping Cancer Council to continue to play our role in working to beat cancer.
We look forward to seeing you in 2010!