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Clear progress in war on cancer

Survival rates for a number of cancers have greatly improved over the past two decades.

Australia’s first “Cancer Survivorship Centre” has opened to improve services for long-term survivors, in a clear sign of advance in combating the insidious disease.

The new facility was launched at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, in East Melbourne, along with data which showed Victoria’s five-year survival rate after a cancer diagnosis has topped 60 per cent.

This figure does not include those people diagnosed with common skin cancers which can almost always be successfully treated.

“We are seeing improving survival rates and a greater number of people who are cancer survivors,” Associate Professor Michael Jefford, a medical oncologist and director of the new centre, said.

“We think there are probably around 716,000 people in Australia who have a past history of cancer.

“This is a product of the fact we are detecting more cancers and (that) more people are being treated more successfully.”

The Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre will conduct research and also develop resources and support services, with a focus on the period after a cancer survivor exits intensive treatment.

Survival rates for breast, kidney and prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, in particular have greatly improved over the past two decades.

It is now estimated just over three per cent of the Australian population lives with a cancer diagnosis in their past.

Longer-term issues faced by these survivors can include bowel problems, heart or nerve damage, difficulties in returning to work, or greater risks of developing another type of cancer.

Jefford said there was a growing awareness that while cancer was “no longer a death sentence, it is a life sentence” and the medical community must broaden its focus from diagnosis and treatment.

“We are recognising that it is not just about ‘you had successful treatment, be grateful, go away’,” Jefford said.

“There is increasing recognition that people can have issues that may even be life-long, medical issues, side-effects, complications of treatment or living with the worry about cancer coming back.”

The centre was established funding support from The Pratt Foundation and the Victorian Department of Health.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said the centre would be a Victorian, and national, resource.

“The number of people surviving cancer is increasing so it is important to know about the issues they face and how to support them,” Andrews said.

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