5,000 lives can be saved through healthy choices

Tuesday 5 June, 2018

5,000 Victorian lives could be saved and 6,500 cases of cancer avoided over five years if there was increased effort to prevent cancer, including Victorians making healthy lifestyle choices and taking part in free cancer screening programs, new data released by the Cancer Council Victoria today shows.

Every year, more than 33,000 Victorians are diagnosed with cancer, with 68% of Victorians with cancer living for five or more years after their diagnosis.

Todd Harper, Cancer Council Victoria CEO, said that with one in three cancer diagnoses able to be prevented, Cancer Council has set 2021 targets that the organisation needs every Victorian to help achieve.

“We believe that through a concentrated effort and collaborative approach to cancer prevention, improving screening rates and continued developments in treatment, it is achievable to save 5,000 lives and prevent 6,500 cancer cases between 2016-2021,” Mr Harper said.

Craig Sinclair, Cancer Council Victoria Head of Prevention, said the latest data shows that only 42% of eligible Victorians aged 50 to 74 take part in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program after receiving a free home screening kit in the mail.

“Bowel cancer is Victoria’s second biggest cancer killer, claiming the lives of more than 1,300 Victorians each year. However, we know that if bowel cancer is detected at stage 1 or 2, there is a 98% to 90% chance of survival, respectively, but too many people in the target age of 50-74 are ignoring the free and simple test mailed to our homes. We aim to increase participation in the free bowel screening test to 50% by 2021, potentially saving thousands of lives,” Mr Sinclair said.

Victoria’s other free screening programs include cervical screening, for which Cancer Council is working to improve participation from 83% to 88% by 2021, and breast screening with participation of 54% which the organisation hopes to see rise to 70%.

Mr Harper said that thanks to leadership in prevention programs and sustained investment over decades, the dial has shifted, particularly when it comes to tobacco consumption.

“In 1985, 32% of Victorians were regular smokers - today that figure is less than 14%,” Mr Sinclair said.

“Over many years the comprehensive approach of anti-smoking advertisements, price increases and legislation change has been instrumental in reducing the smoking rate and saving lives, but we still have more to do.”

Mr Sinclair said that while overall Australia’s smoking rates have declined, people in the most disadvantaged communities are 2.7 times more likely to smoke than those in advantaged areas.

“Cancer Council Victoria has set a target of reducing the number of daily smokers in Victoria to 8% by 2021.”

Mr Sinclair said collaboration and more investment are also needed to tackle obesity. 

“19% of Victorians are obese – a leading risk factor for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and 13 different cancers,” Mr Sinclair said.

“I encourage everyone to try and maintain a healthy weight by sticking to a healthy nutritious diet, avoiding sugary drinks, and being physically active.”

Mr Harper said Cancer Council Victoria recently provided community leaders around Victoria with information about how they can reduce the burden of cancer in their local area.

“We all have a role to play in making change, and knowledge about how to cut our cancer risk can be empowering to share with others,” Mr Harper said.

For anyone who has been affected by cancer, information and support is available.

“I encourage anyone affected by cancer that needs support to reach out and access the services and programs available through Cancer Council Victoria,” Mr Harper said.   

To find out more about cutting your cancer risk visit www.cancervic.org.au/preventing-cancer

For cancer information and support call Cancer Council 13 11 20 to speak with a cancer nurse or visit www.cancervic.org.au   

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Cancer Council Victoria is a non-profit organisation that has been leading the fight against all cancers for 82 years in the areas of research, patient support, cancer prevention and advocacy. For details visit www.cancervic.org.au, or to speak to our experienced cancer nurses call Cancer Council on 13 11 20. This is a confidential service for anyone looking for cancer information or support.