Clinics to catch abdominal cancers needed

Australia needs government funded speciality diagnostic clinics to ensure the earlier detection of pancreatic and other “forgotten cancers”, says Cancer Council Australia.


Pancreatic cancer is 1 of the 10 most common cancers in both men and women in Australia.

Like lung cancer – Australia’s biggest cancer killer – it’s five year survival rate is poor.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda, says we still don’t have a systematic way of knowing why some people survive cancer and others don’t because the research hasn’t been funded.

“At present five-year survival for lung cancer is just 16 per cent, compared with 68 per cent for all cancers combined. Some of those survivors will be individuals who may have been lucky enough to get an early diagnosis and optimal treatment.

“The same random outcomes are likely to apply to other poor-survival cancers, particularly those in the abdominal area such as pancreatic, adrenal and kidney cancers.”

One of the reasons five-year breast cancer survival in Australia is at 90 per cent, she says, is that screening and treatment are well defined.

In a submission to a Senate Select Committee holding public hearings on Thursday, the Cancer Council and Clinical Oncology Society of Australia called on the government not to “loose sight” of existing technologies within the health system that can give today’s sufferers of hard-to-detect-and-treat cancers a better chance of survival.

“A starting point to learn from successes in breast cancer care could be to set up a pilot study, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), with people reporting intra-abdominal symptoms, which often get dismissed, being referred to a diagnostic clinic for monitoring,” Prof Aranda said.

The clinics would be staffed by general physicians and specialist nurses who would be able to diagnose quickly.

At the moment some patients can wait for up to six months for a cancer diagnosis and then it’s often too late, says Prof Aranda.

“One of the challenges with some of the poor survival cancers, that is those that are in the abdomen, is that there are many different types of specialists a patient could be referred to,” Prof Aranda told AAP.

“They also go into public clinics without a clear sense of urgency, so not knowing where to send patients is a difficulty for GPs if they don’t exactly know the organ, and then there are patients that end up waiting for diagnosis in cues and public clinics.

“The idea here would be that the GP would identify the need to exclude cancer as a diagnosis. Where at the moment our system sort of treats cancer as a diagnosis of last resort,” she said.