Our researchers centre stage at national cancer forum

1 December 2015 | Professor Dianne O'Connell

The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting (COSA), the nation’s premier gathering of cancer health professionals, kicked off in Hobart on 17 November. This three day event brought together leading clinicians, scientists, oncologists, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists and allied health professionals who are working in cancer care nationally and globally.

Members of the research team at Cancer Council NSW attended the meeting, with Rajah Supramaniam and Dr Xue Qin Yu making featured presentations on recent projects.

Cancer in Aboriginal communities

Rajah gave an invited talk on some key points that came out of Cancer Council NSW’s Aboriginal Patterns of Cancer Care (APOCC) project, which was designed to investigate why Aboriginal people in NSW are more likely to die from cancer compared to the non-Aboriginal population.

After analysing the records of all people diagnosed with cancer from 2001 to 2007 across the state, the research team discovered that Aboriginal people were less likely to receive potentially curative surgery for breast, prostate and lung cancer than non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people were also 30% more likely to have died from these cancers 5 years after diagnosis.

How can we close this gap?

The researchers identified several ways that health services could improve cancer treatment and survival outcomes for Aboriginal people:

  • Increase the number of Aboriginal Health Workers working in cancer centres
  • Ensure that all health workers in cancer care have Aboriginal cultural awareness training
  • Improve cancer awareness, particularly of common cancer symptoms, amongst Aboriginal communities
  • Identify and support those Aboriginal people who may need help in navigating the health system
  • Reduce practical barriers to accessing cancer treatment centres by increasing the availability of accommodation, parking, transport and childcare facilities                            

Recognising the importance of reducing this inequality, Cancer Council NSW launched a new Aboriginal Cancer information website during NAIDOC week. This resource provides Aboriginal people, their carers and health professionals with information and resources that will help navigate and support their cancer journey.

The website has been designed to target the gaps identified in the APOCC research, in clear and culturally appropriate formats. It was also been developed in consultation with the Aboriginal community and includes video stories from Aboriginal researchers and cancer survivors.

Lung cancer trends

Dr Xue Qin Yu led a recent study which looked at past trends in lung cancer prevalence in NSW and estimated future prevalence patterns. Using data from the NSW Cancer Registry, the researchers found that rates of lung cancer have declined over the last two decades for men, but for women this trend was still on the rise. If these trends continue into the near future, the prevalence of lung cancer for women will exceed that for men by 2017.

Why is lung cancer in women still increasing?

Generally, there is a 20–30 year lag between smoking and subsequent onset of lung cancer. In Australia, smoking prevalence among men started to drop in the 1950s which resulted in a downward turn in lung cancer rates from the 1980s onwards. As this reduction in smoking prevalence occurred much later for women, it will be several years before the increase in lung cancer rates hit a peak and then begin to decline.

What can we do?

Since a vast majority of lung cancers are attributable to smoking, further strengthening of current tobacco control measures should be considered a high priority in Australia. This will help reduce the prevalence of lung cancer, particularly among women and young people. Improving early diagnosis is also vital, as the majority of lung cancer patients are diagnosed with advanced disease – which explains why survival rates are currently so low.

To find out more on the tobacco control initiatives being led by CCNSW, follow Scott Walsberger on Cancer Council Conversations.