After a 1930 national cancer conference called by the Commonwealth Minister of Health, cancer organisations met annually to discuss how to tackle the disease. It was noted Victoria didn't have its own cancer organisation but New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania did.
"In the State of Victoria, strictly speaking, we have not got a coordinated cancer campaign. The efforts to grapple with the problem have been more or less sporadic." — Record of proceedings.
Following renewed pressure at the 5th national conference, Victorian Premier Sir Stanley Argyle called a meeting to discuss forming a public cancer organisation. In 1936, The Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria became an incorporated body by Act of Parliament. Its first meetings were chaired by the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and held at Melbourne's Town Hall.
In the wake of the Great Depression, with the economy still in recovery, the Cancer Council's first public appeal raised $66,000, equivalent to several million dollars in today's money.
Work gets underway
In 1937, two members of the Cancer Council's Executive Committee, Professor Peter MacCallum and Dr Rutherford Kaye Scott, developed a plan to tackle:
- the installation and maintenance of treatment and follow up records
- increased facilities for diagnosis and treatment
- liaison medical officers
- Hospice and Almoner Service
In line with the plan, The Medical and Scientific Committee recommended that £6,500 be made available to the University of Melbourne for an x-ray and radium laboratory.
Professor MacCallum and Dr Kaye Scott recommended research funding should be allocated to studies likely to improve existing treatments, especially radiotherapy and surgery.
In 1937 Professor Peter MacCallum was elected Chairman of the Medical and Scientific Committee. He would go on to became Chairman of the Executive Committee, retiring in 1962, although the close relationship between the institute named in his honour and the Cancer Council continues today.
Patient support services began almost immediately after the Cancer Council's 1937 plan was developed.
A grant of £50 was provided to the Country Women's Association to cover the cost of transporting suspected cancer patients to the nearest Base Hospital for treatment. The 1938 Annual Report notes that the Cancer Council recognised it had an obligation to country subscribers and this was the motivation behind the grant.
In 1938 the Cancer Council provided funds to the Victorian Institute of Hospital Almoners to carry out training work so country patients had access to 'sympathetic advice and practical help'. This funding continued for a number of years as the Almoners placed trained staff in several metropolitan hospitals to work with cancer patients.
During 1939 the Cancer Information Bureau was established. People who suspected they might have cancer were advised through advertisements in the press to 'communicate, in writing, with the Executive Medical Officer, who promptly advises them concerning their problems.'
Dr Charles V Mackay, the first full-time employee of the Cancer Council, produced a booklet, What every adult should know about cancer. It was the first of many booklets explaining cancer and aimed at ordinary Victorians.
A central registry
In its early years, the Cancer Council Executive Committee decided to establish and fund a central Cancer Registry.
Dr Robert Fowler accepted appointment as Honorary Chief Registrar in 1938/39. The Executive believed it was of 'utmost importance to ascertain, over a long period of years, the end result of every method of treatment for all types of malignancy.'
Information was to be collated from all treatment institutions and a program of installing Registers was implemented over several years. It was also decided that patients should be followed up over a long period of time so the final result of treatment could be ascertained.
In 1941/42 the Cancer Registry work was suspended because Colonel Robert Fowler was on active service. The first annual analysis of clinical cancer statistics was prepared and the information revealed that the organisation's work was 'entirely justified'. Work resumed at the end of the War.