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Hope for young people with cancer: survival is on the increase

Monday 24 August, 2015

A record number of young Victorians are living longer after a cancer diagnosis, according to new Cancer Council Victoria data released for Daffodil Day today.

About 17-in-20 young Victorians aged under 40 years old survive for at least 5 years following a cancer diagnosis – a figure that has increased by an incredible 16% in just 20 years between 1988 and 2008.

Though the number of cancer diagnoses in young Victorian has increased over the past twenty years, the growth in the number of these surviving for at least five years after their diagnosis is relatively much greater. Five-year survivors amongst young Victorians diagnosed with cancer in the most recent decade number almost 12,000 – this is about 2,500 more survivors than two decades previously.

The most common cancers diagnosed in Victorians aged under 40 years are melanoma, lymphoma, leukaemia and breast cancer.

Incidence of melanoma decreased by 20% between 1988-2008 thanks to increased awareness of skin cancer and prevention programs such as the Cancer Council’s SunSmart program, however incidence of lymphoma, leukaemia and breast cancer increased by 12%, 18% and 17% respectively.

Cancer cases continue to increase due to a growing population, but thanks to improved early detection and treatment, survival is also on the up.

With more people being diagnosed young and living longer after a cancer diagnosis there is an increasing need for support services for survivors, an issue squarely on the agenda today for Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day.

Cancer Council hope to raise $2 million in Victoria this Daffodil Day to help support those touched by cancer, including funding prevention programs, ground-breaking research and support services for young people affected by cancer and their families.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said it is encouraging to see cancer survivorship increasing in young people, but that we need to provide services to support them.

“Thanks to funds raised by the community through events like Daffodil Day, Cancer Council Victoria can keep growing the evidence-based survivorship support programs it already offers,” Mr Harper said.

Cancer survivor Heath Downie knows all too well the impact of being diagnosed with cancer at a young age after developing sarcoma at only 29 years old.

“It was such a shock for me, my family and my friends when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was a young, active guy who had done all the right things to take care of myself. It just didn’t make sense,” Heath said.

“Being diagnosed with cancer and undergoing surgery and radiotherapy was a surreal experience, but I feel lucky to have had Cancer Council’s information and support services to help me understand what was going on and what to expect.”

Funds raised through Daffodil Day will also fund research projects into cancer in young people.

“We are really seeing the results of research and clinical trials having an effect on the number of young people living long after cancer,” Mr Harper said.

One of these research projects is run by a team of Melbourne researchers who are working on a new treatment which they hope will lead to increased survival for children with aggressive or drug-resistant leukaemia.

Funded through Cancer Council Victoria’s research grants program, the study ‘Tailored therapies for blood cancers’ has found promising results from a new combination therapy approach.

Researcher Dr Michaela Waibel is hoping to find better ways to treat patients with blood cancers and to develop the therapies in such a way that they prevent the cancer from recurring.

“The phenomenon of drug resistance is a longstanding problem in treating patients with blood cancer and this is certainly the case in children with so-called high-risk leukaemia,” Dr Waibel said.

“Knowing that our research has the potential to advance clinical practice and make a difference to a patients’ health and improve long-term outcomes of therapy is a great personal motivator.”

The daffodil has become a symbol synonymous with hope around the world; the brightly coloured flower represents the possibility of a cancer free future, and pays tribute to the countless Australians whose lives have been touched by this disease.

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