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Report shows 5-year cancer survival getting better for Victorians

Friday 20 April, 2007

Overall cancer survival in Victoria has increased from 48% in 1990 to 61% in 2004 and from 58% to 61% in the last five years - a three per cent increase. The Cancer Council Victoria today launched a report titled, "Cancer Survival, Victoria 2007", which estimates patient survival in 2004 (and comparisons with earlier periods).

The report shows that over 60% of Victorians diagnosed with cancer will not die from their cancer within five years from their diagnosis and that survival continues to improve with advances in treatment and earlier detection.

The major findings from the report show cancers with highest 5-year survival were: testis (99%), thyroid (93%), melanoma (90%), breast (87%), uterus (84%), prostate (84%) and Hodgkin lymphoma (82%).

Cancers with the lowest five-year survival were pancreas (5%), mesothelioma (5%), liver (10%), lung (11%) and cancers of unknown primary site (11%).

Professor David Hill said the task of interpreting some of the findings was difficult because there was a current lack of populated-based information in Victoria on cancer stage and treatments.

However, Professor Hill said he wished to acknowledge the support the Victorian Government had given, through the Ministerial Taskforce for Cancer, to supporting the Victorian Cancer Registry in undertaking a trial to collect this information in the Barwon South West Integrated Cancer Service region.

Director of Barwon Integrated Cancer Services Region Associate Professor Richard Bell said that this report underscored the pressing need for adding clinical data to the population based cancer registry in a standard way.

"Until we have these data our ability to properly describe and interpret the community experience of survival from cancer is severely limited," he said.

Consumer Advocate, Dr Ian Roos, Chair Cancer Voices said, "Cancer patients will be pleased to see the improving result described in this report.

"However data collected by hospitals and other treatment centers is currently being wasted, as the Cancer Registry does not collect it. Collection of such data would enable evaluation of cancer care at the local level and help us understand what causes the disparities identified in the report.

"All Victorians, regardless of location, income, or age have the right to the same outcomes if they are diagnosed with cancer," he said.

Overall, five-year survival was similar for men and women. Where significant differences occurred it was women who tended to have the better survival e.g. for oral cavity, lung, thyroid and for melanoma and acute myeloid leukaemia.

Report author, Professor Dallas English said: "Almost all cancers showed better five-year survival for younger people than for older people. For example, ovarian cancer survival decreased from 84% for women aged under 45 years to 16% for women aged over 75 years whereas breast cancer survival only decreased from 87% to 76% over the same age groups.

"Some cancers for which there was no evidence of improvement included those of, pancreas, brain and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia," he said.

"Survival improved for most cancers over the 15 year period from 1990 to 2004, " Professor English said.

Professor English said the report showed for the first time the survival data in regional Victoria across the eight Victorian Integrated Cancer Services regions.

"Generally, survival from cancer for residents of metropolitan Melbourne is slightly better than that for residents of the rest of Victoria but the reasons for these differences are not clear. It could be later diagnosis or less access to cancer services but we don't have any evidence," he said.

Professor Hill however counselled against too much speculation on reasons for the metropolitan/rural difference in survival.

"Jumping to conclusions and investing particular resources before the reasons are understood might be very wasteful.

"There have been a number of new cancer services opened in regional areas of Victoria since the data for the report was analysed, including the Traralgon Cancer Treatment Centre, and expanded services in Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong.

"The most important thing that could be done now is to collect better information on patients' diagnosis and treatment with cancer as a first and essential step in gaining an improved understanding of cancer survival," he said.

Note: The report was compiled by the Victorian Cancer Registry Cancer Epidemiology Centre, The Cancer Council Victoria, Melbourne, Australia under the leadership of Professor Dallas English, Helen Farrugia Vicky Thursfield, Paul Chang and Professor Graham Giles.

This report has been produced to describe the survival of Victorians affected by cancer in 2004 and in comparison with earlier periods.

The type of survival analysis used for this report differs from that used for the previous report "Cancer Survival in Victoria: relative survival for selected cancers diagnosed from 1982 to 1997 with follow-up to 1999" (June 2003). In this report we use "period" analysis. This uses only the most recent interval survival estimate of cases diagnosed in different calendar years (cross-sectional estimate of survival). The estimate of period 5-year survival for persons in 2004 uses the first year interval survival for patients diagnosed in 2004, the two-year interval survival from patients diagnosed in 2003, and so on. Because the "period" method uses only the most recent survival experience, when there is an increasing trend in survival it provides more up-to date measure of recent survival.