This October, the world's largest cancer fundraising event, Relay For Life, celebrates 10 years in Australia. First held in the Melbourne suburb of Murrumbeena with just 260 local residents, Relay For Life has since grown to an event which sees over 93,000 passionate people from 150 communities across the country raise more than $14 million each year.
Cancer Council fundraising spokesperson, Deb Stringer, said that Relay For Life had inspired a diverse group of Australians to donate thousands of hours and take millions of steps together to fight against cancer.
"Relay is unique. At no other event in Australia can you join with so many people to celebrate survivors and carers, to remember loved ones lost, or to be empowered to fight back against cancer," Ms Stringer said.
"Relay's tenth anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on, and celebrate, the many wonderful breakthroughs in cancer control that have occurred - several of which have been made possible by funds raised through events like Relay For Life," she said.
According to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the survival rate for cancer has increased by 30 per cent in the last 20 years, and rates continue to improve with advances in treatment and earlier detection.
"Our increase in cancer knowledge is a direct result of research and the Cancer Council is the leading independent funding provider for cancer research in Australia. Since 1999, we have invested almost $250 million - a significant commitment that has enabled many life-saving discoveries," Ms Stringer said.
"One recent finding was the link between waist measurement and some cancers, discovered through Health 2020. This ongoing research project was set up by Cancer Council Victoria to investigate the role of diet and other lifestyle factors in causing cancer," she said.
The Health 2020 findings have led to a nation-wide Cancer Council campaign educating Australians about obesity and the associated increased risk of cancer, as well as the lifestyle changes people can take to reduce their risk, such as quitting smoking. The Cancer Council estimates that up to 130,000 Australians could avoid premature death from cancer over the next 10 years by adopting healthy lifestyle changes.
"The discovery of the human papilloma virus vaccine - the world's first ever cancer vaccine - by Cancer Council Australia President, Professor Ian Frazer, is another remarkable breakthrough," Ms Stringer said.
"After becoming available in Australia last year, it now creates a dual approach to cervical cancer prevention and we expect to see further significant reductions in cases of cervical cancer in future generations of women," she said.
Lung cancer is another highly preventable cancer, and smoking rates in Australia have dropped to record lows partly because of reforms promoted by the Cancer Council.
"We have campaigned hard over the past decade to effect policy change at both federal and state levels. Results include graphic health warnings on cigarette and tobacco packaging, and the implementation of smokefree laws in shopping centres, restaurants, dining areas, gambling areas and some bar areas," Ms Stringer said.
"However, while much has been achieved in the fight against cancer, there is still much to be done. Ongoing investment in research is paramount if we are to continue making discoveries that increase our knowledge and improve the treatment and care of cancer patients.
"The money we commit to research is mostly raised by donations and fundraising activities, and to all those that have dedicated their time to Relay For Life over the past ten years, we would like to say ‘thank you'.
"Not only have you been part of a unique and special event within your local community, you have been part of an event that has made an enormous contribution to the fight against cancer," she said.
For more information on Relay For Life visit www.relayforlife.org.au or call 1300 65 65 85.