Monday, July 21, 2008

Australia tops for cancer survival - The Sydney Morning Herald - 18th July 2008

Australia has been given a glowing report in an international cancer review which shows the nation has one of the best disease survival rates in the world.

Australian cancer experts have welcomed the report published in the journal The Lancet, but say Australia still has big gains to make in bowel, breast and lung cancers.

The study compares survival rates in 31 countries for the major cancer types, with Australia consistently falling at the top of the league table next to north America and Japan.

The poorest survival rates were seen in Algeria, Brazil and eastern Europe.
In Australia, Tasmania had the poorest survival rates for most cancers except breast and prostate, where the Northern Territory was the worst performer.

But the UK reviewers said state variations were "generally very small and overall survival was very high, suggesting high standards of health care in most areas."

"We are looking very good," said Professor Graham Giles from the Cancer Council Australia.

"People complain about our health system in Australia but in international comparisons we are doing quite well."

Recent publications from state-based cancer registries have shown big gains in survival in the last decade.

Prof Giles said good access to drug treatments and well established screening programs from cancer of the breast and cervix had put Australia in the lead.

But slow uptake of the national bowel screening program currently being rolled out was not helping the statistics, he said.

"Bowel is an unattractive cancer to sell to the public and not enough older Australians are getting their bums off seats and taking up the offer of being screened."

Improvements could also be made to breast screening rates, with only about 50 per cent of women over 50 regularly getting a mammogram.
Lung cancer "needs work", mostly in increased effort to reduce smoking rates, he said.

"Men are giving up in droves but the smoking epidemic in women has yet to abate and that's a problem," Prof Giles said.

Prostate and pancreatic cancer also had room for improvement, the specialist said, but the focus needed to be on research.

"With these ones, what we need is not greater public awareness but more basic research to better understand them," he said.

"For prostate we've got the awareness, but we need a better test to know which of the tumours we're finding are the 'tigers' to remove and which are just the 'pussy cats' that we can leave sleeping."

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