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Cancer Council's leaders want to thank you

Tuesday 8 December, 2020

Message from our Chair - Professor Jeremy Millar

Professor Jeremy Millar

You are part of a special group of people committed to fighting cancer and helping those many people affected by it. Gifts left in Wills are a crucial source of support for Cancer Council Victoria’s cancer research, prevention programs and support services. I want to thank you for your commitment. It has never been so important.

My grandmother died of Hodgkin’s disease, a lymphoma, in the 1940s. It happened just as a seemingly miraculous new treatment was being introduced: radiotherapy. The primitive technology of the time caused skin side-effects and, in the end, could not control her cancer and she died young. But the enormous strides made since—in improved radiotherapy and surgical-technology, in pharmaceuticals and in the basic understanding of cancer—means that young women with the same cancer in 2020, are very likely to be cured with very few long-lasting side-effects.

It is the 24/7 work of the Cancer Council to build on this type of progress, to support work to prevent and detect cancers, support people and family affected by cancer, and to save lives. And we rely on community support to enable us to do it.

In my role as a radiation oncologist at the Alfred Hospital, and in my academic work at Monash in their cancer research program, I work every day to improve the lives of those who are facing cancer. I also decided to donate extra time to Cancer Council since 1993 and have been Chair since 2018. I would like to tell you a little about our work at the moment.

COVID-19 has impacted us all in different ways, as individuals and in the work that we do. But cancer hasn’t stopped and won’t stop, and we need to be there more than ever for those impacted by the disease.

This year we took the opportunity to refresh our Strategic Plan to ensure we are set up to deal with the challenges that lay ahead. Our goals and priorities are still concentrated on research, prevention and support but with a greater emphasis on equity.

We want to ensure everyone has access to information and support, that we are funding the best and brightest research, and using our data to inform the way we prevent cancer.

The Victorian Government recently unveiled their new Cancer Plan, showing a welcome commitment to cancer control. We provided a submission based on consultations with patients, families and clinicians and we are glad to see several of our priorities reflected, including a commitment to eliminate cervical cancer by 2030.

Inside you will read messages from three of our leaders in cancer research, prevention and support. Despite a difficult year, we have made progress and we want to make an even bigger impact.

Thank you for your vision and dedication for a cancer free future. It’s passion like yours that keeps this vital work going.

Message from our Head of Cancer Epidemiology – Professor Roger Milne

COVID has really raised the profile of epidemiologists this year! Our cancer epidemiologists aim to identify the causes of cancer so we can better prevent it.

This year our work has focused on our large cohort studies – Health 2020 and the Australian Breakthrough Cancer (ABC) Study. Perhaps you are a participant.

It’s the 30th year of the Health 2020 Study, which is discovering the effects lifestyle factors have on cancer and other disease. The study has been instrumental in identifying links between risk factors like body size, diet and alcohol consumption and risk of disease.

Following on from this study is the ABC Study. Over the next 20–30 years, we will follow more than 51,000 Australians to see who develops diseases such as cancer and identify what factors might be involved. I’m really excited about this study as it will use the latest technologies to investigate how our genes and lifestyle-related factors and behaviours combine to influence the development of disease. This will enable us to better predict an individual’s risk of cancer and to personalise screening and prevention strategies and messaging.

The use of biomarkers in blood and exploring the relationship between the gut microbiome and cancer will also be a focus of the Study and for this purpose we have been continuing the collecting blood and faecal (poo) samples from participants. We want to enrich the study resource in this way to ensure it is of maximum value to the international research community.

While COVID has reduced the number of blood and faecal samples we’ve been able to collect from participants this year, we are looking forward to ramping this up in 2021.

The work we’ve done and hope to do in the future is only made possible because of the support of people like you, so thank you.

You are helping us build a resource that will prevent cancer and save lives well into the future.

Message from our Head of Strategy & Support – Danielle Spence


The generosity of people like you ensures our services are there for patients, carers and families from the point of diagnosis, through treatment and beyond. And our services have been needed this year more than ever.

COVID has impacted people with cancer in many ways. People going through treatment can be more vulnerable to the virus, while many have felt isolated during lockdown and found health services difficult to navigate. Our compassionate cancer nurses have been there every step of the way, providing information and support to everyone affected by cancer.

 Distress calls to the nurses on our 13 11 20 service from cancer patients and carers worried about COVID-19 have quadrupled since the beginning of the pandemic. We found an increase in calls related to feelings of isolation, difficulty attending appointments, anxiety about delays to upcoming surgery and concern about hospital visitation restrictions.

 It was so vital that our nurses were there to help patients and carers through this difficult time.

Thanks to generous people like you, who had the vision to leave a gift in their Will in the past, we’ve been able to be there. We’ve been on the phone and on emails, providing information, support, organising free wigs to be posted out, and linking people to trained volunteers who have been through a similar experience as well as to legal and financial advice. It’s invaluable to provide such a service during a difficult time.

Message from our Head of Prevention – Craig Sinclair

I am passionate about preventing cancer in the community and making it easier for people like you to reduce your cancer risk. This year we’ve continued to work hard in raising awareness about the link between cancer and risk factors like smoking, alcohol, obesity and UV and as well as advocating for policy change that enables healthy environments.

The importance of screening has also really come to the fore with the COVID pandemic, with many people delaying check-ups and medical appointments because of restrictions and fears about contracting the virus.

We are very concerned that cancers aren’t being detected early enough, meaning more people will present with late stage cancer. To help combat the decline in cancer notifications, we have again put to air our successful bowel cancer screening education campaign that has so far prevented hundreds of bowel cancers, saving many lives.

With the help of donations, including a gift left in a Will, we ran similar campaigns in 2017 and 2018 to raise awareness about the free at-home screening program. By showing the effectiveness of these campaigns we were able to secure an additional $10 million in funding from the Federal Government to deliver a national campaign in 2019. We want to continue with these campaigns to get participation up to at least 60%.

Working with all sections of the Victorian community to increase screening is also a focus for our team. Our campaigns encouraging people to visit their GP and to do the at-home bowel cancer screening test have been translated into multiple languages to ensure our vital messages are reaching everyone.

We are also pleased to see the Victorian Government match our commitment to work towards eliminating cervical cancer by 2030 through increasing cervical screening participation and uptake of the HPV vaccine amongst adolescents. This is ahead of the national target to eliminate the disease by 2035. It’s amazing to think that cervical cancer will be eliminated in the near future – and that’s thanks in part to the vision and generosity of people like you.