Australia among the best for cancer survival rates

Thursday 6 January, 2011

New research published recently in the prestigious UK medical journal, The Lancet, shows that for four major cancers (breast, ovarian, colorectal, and lung), survival rates for cancers are higher in Australia, Canada, and Sweden than in the UK and Denmark, while in Norway survival rates are intermediate.

Director of Cancer Council Victoria, Professor David Hill, said that the study encompassed eight countries with universal access to healthcare and advanced health systems.

"Cancer Council Victoria data was included this unprecedented research," Professor Hill said. "The Victorian Cancer Registry data used in this study shows that Victoria has relatively good outcomes for those diagnosed with cancer in the state."

Professor Hill said the results, from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership, were the first in a series of studies due to be completed in 2012. The studies to follow will seek to explain the differences in cancer outcomes between countries.

"By the end of the project, we will have data on knowledge and perceptions of cancer among the general public and among general practitioners, which might contribute to early or late commencement of treatment", said Professor Hill. 

As well, it is planned to obtain detailed information from patients on their experience in the health system, and to review medical records in fine-grained studies describing treatments given. This would permit comparison of current practice against best practice guidelines, and between countries.

"Benchmarking has tremendous potential to inform policy-makers once the reasons for differences between effective and underperforming health systems have been identified," Professor Hill said.

To date, Cancer Council Victoria has met the local costs of participating in this unique research, however Professor Hill said that he hoped government would contribute to the ongoing costs.

Key findings of the research:

  • Almost 90 per cent of women diagnosed with breast cancer in Australia will still be alive five years later.
  • Two-thirds of those diagnosed with bowel cancer in Australia will still be alive five years later.
  • Australian survival rates have noticeably improved in bowel, lung, breast and ovarian cancers when comparing 1995-1999 figures with 2005-2007 figures.

Professor Bob Thomas, Chief Cancer Advisor at the Department of Health said that the pleasing results reflect well on 20 years of government commitment to cancer control.

"However," Professor Thomas said, "the battle is not yet won, and we know that over 10,000 people right across the state of Victoria still die from cancer ever year."

Professor Thomas emphasised that there is room for improvement in cancer screening and early detection programs.

"Particularly in regards to bowel cancer screening, there is an opportunity to improve participation in available screening programs that would have a real impact upon cancer survival rates."

International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership research paper