Projections show need for bowel cancer screening investment.
Decisions made by government today will greatly affect how Australia handles a 40% increase in cancer incidence projected for 2020, according to Cancer Council Australia.
New Australian Institute of Health and Welfare analyses predict that 150,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2020, a 40% increase on 2007 baseline data.
Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said that although population ageing was the main reason for the projected increase, decisions made by governments today could still reduce cancer incidence and mortality, with immediate and longer-term benefits.
"For example, bowel cancer is projected to cause the greatest burden in men and women combined, with around 20,000 new cases expected in 2020," Professor Olver said. "Whether those cases lead to death, after a difficult and costly cancer battle, or to a relatively swift recovery will in most cases depend on how early they are diagnosed.
"This is why we are calling for the federal government to expand its National Bowel Cancer Screening Program now, to start managing this ongoing increase in bowel cancer cases today."
Professor Olver said bowel cancer was already estimated to be costing the health system around $1 billion in medical costs – mostly hospital and pharmaceutical costs for treating late-stage disease. "If the government expands its screening program, which only targets three age groups instead of everyone aged 50 and over, the benefits in deaths prevented and hospital costs saved will start to flow now – rather than in 2020, when we hit 20,000 new cases."
He said the predicted spike in prostate cancer cases, expected to account for 30% of the overall incidence increase in men, was also a challenge to governments and to the health sector. Case numbers were increasing significantly but mortality remained relatively stable.
"The number of prostate cancer cases has increased enormously in step with the use of the PSA blood test, however the test is not accurate at distinguishing potentially fatal prostate cancers from indolent cancers," Professor Olver said.
"So a key challenge will be to find better ways of testing for prostate cancer risk, exploring guidelines for better use of the PSA test to maximise benefit and reduce over-diagnosis, and to improve treatment and support services for men diagnosed."
He added that more people quitting smoking, being active, eating a healthy diet, avoiding harmful UV radiation and limiting alcohol would also translate to fewer cancer cases and deaths.
Read the AIHW report: Cancer incidence projections, Australia 2011 to 2020