Shining a light on forgotten cancers

Monday 13 May, 2019

Research into low survival cancers is receiving consistent funding.

Thanks to both Cancer Council supporters and the Victorian Government, research into low survival cancers is receiving increased funding – including a world-first lung cancer project.

In response to our calls for more funding, the Victorian Government has committed $1.5 million to our Grants-in-Aid program, adding to the $1 million supporters have already contributed towards funding research into low survival cancers specifically.

Seven projects are addressing the significant funding gap between low survival cancers like lung, oesophageal and liver, and other cancers like breast and melanoma which have historically received more investment.

The Grants-in-Aid program funds research into all types of cancers in Victorian hospitals, universities and medical institutions.

We know funding in research saves lives. The investment in common cancers such as breast and melanoma has improved five-year survival rates to around 90% – but there’s still long way to go for many others.

Today, Victorians diagnosed with a low survival cancer have a less than 50% chance of being alive in five years, and for some, five-year survival is as low as 7%.

Easing the burden for patients through exercise

One of the new low-survival projects announced this year will be the first of its kind worldwide; aiming to ease the debilitating effect of lung cancer treatment using physical exercise.

This project at the University of Melbourne has received funding until the end of 2021, and will be led by Dr Catherine Granger.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related disease burden in Australia,” said Dr Granger.

Physical exercise could reduce the impact of lung cancer treatment.

Physical exercise could reduce the impact of lung cancer treatment.

Dr Granger believes there is a need for further investigation into the potential benefits of physical exercise for cancer patients, post-treatment.

“Surgery is the most common treatment for early stage lung cancer, however following surgery, patients have needs which are not currently addressed in clinical practice,” she said.

The researcher’s experience as a physiotherapist has guided her to investigate this link.

“Targeted exercise training, or advice to exercise is not part of usual care for patients with lung cancer – despite strong potential benefit and desire,” said Dr Granger.

“This is partly due to a lack of strong evidence for the benefits of exercise. Our project addresses this gap.”

The project will enrol lung cancer patients prior to surgery, and randomly allocate them to either complete a 12-week exercise program, or to usual clinical care – involving no physical exercise.

“We will follow participants for six months to measure a number of outcomes including physical function, fitness, physical activity levels, symptoms and quality of life,” she said.

The symptoms of lung cancer after treatment are serious and long lasting.

Dr Granger says they can last for up to five years after surgery, making life hard for survivors.

She hopes her new research project will prove that lung cancer survivors can benefit from exercise.

“My overall vision is to improve the quality of survival for people with lung cancer.”

Further investment into low survival cancers

Two world-class research projects on cancers of the digestive tract received Government funding alongside Dr Granger’s.

Dr Nicholas Clemons hopes to develop a simple blood test for patients with oesophageal cancer.

One project announced this year could mean more accurate diagnoses and effective treatment for oesophageal cancer patients.

Dr Moritz Eissmann’s study at LaTrobe University aims to develop a new, much-needed targeted treatment for gastric cancer, using immunotherapy.

“Over 700,000 people die every year of gastric cancer, which makes it the third most common cause of cancer mortality worldwide,” said Dr Eissmann.

Another project at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, led by Dr Nicholas Clemons, hopes to develop a simple blood test to better diagnose and guide treatment decisions for patients with oesophageal cancer.

The five-year survival rate for oesophageal cancer currently sits below 30%, and about 1,500 Australians are diagnosed with this cancer each year.

“It’s the desire to make advances in how we treat and manage patients with these low outcome cancers that challenges and motivates me to undertake my research,” said Dr Clemons.

Thanks to generous supporters, Cancer Council’s Grants-in-Aid program will continue to work towards improved survival rates to create hope for all people impacted by cancer.