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Rural cancer patients have poorer rates of survival

Australian researchers have identified a link between proximity to treatment centres and cancer survival for rural dwellers.

People with colorectal cancer in rural areas have a greater chance of dying than their city cousins because treatment facilities are so far away, a study shows.

Country people living between 200 and 399 kilometres away from a radiotherapy clinic were found to be 30 per cent more likely to die from the disease, compared to those living within a 50km radius.

Those facing a 400km trek for treatment were 25 per cent more likely to die, while those living 100-199km from a treatment centre had a 16 per cent greater risk of dying.

Researchers from the Cancer Council in Queensland estimated that for every 100km a country colorectal cancer patient had to travel for treatment, their chance of dying rose six per cent.

They said it was imperative health services found ways to improve access for rural patients by reimbursing them for travel and accommodation costs and providing outreach services in areas where radiotherapy was not available.

"To our knowledge, this is the first time that the association between distance to treatment centres and survival for patients with rectal cancer has been reported in Australia," they wrote in their study, published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

"Although radiotherapy services are considered to be integral to a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment of patients with rectal cancer, the increased distances rural patients need to travel to use these services are recognised as a barrier to optimum treatment, particularly when prolonged absence from home disrupts normal life and involves financial hardship."

Colorectal cancer is the most commonly diagnosed invasive cancer in Australia, which has the highest incidence of the disease in the world.

Most patients require surgery, but radiotherapy can be used before and after patients go under the knife to reduce the chance of the disease returning.

The researchers' findings were based on a study of more than 6000 people living across Queensland with rectal cancer.

They had an average age of 63 and were all diagnosed between 1996 and 2006.

When the researchers checked on survival rates in 2007, more than one third had died, most from rectal cancer.

Patients who travelled between two and more than six hours for treatment were about 25 per cent more likely to die than those who lived within an hour of a clinic.

The researchers said even after taking into account the various stages of colorectal cancer had on the chances of a patient surviving as well as their age and sex, those who lived in the bush still had a greater chance of dying.

Between 1996 and 2000, radiotherapy was only available at two public and two private hospitals in or near Brisbane.

Two more opened have since opened in Brisbane and in Queensland's south-east.


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