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Lung cancer is Australia’s biggest cancer killer – we need to act now

November 1, 2021

Lung cancer is Australia’s biggest cancer killer – we need to act now

November is lung cancer awareness month. Lung cancer is Australia’s biggest cancer killer but it’s certainly not our highest profile cancer. Each year around 7400 men and 6300 Australian women are diagnosed with lung cancer, and unfortunately survival is low with more than 8500 Australians dying from lung cancer each year.

Lung cancer is also a disease of inequity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australians living in remote, very remote areas and communities of greatest socioeconomic disadvantage being disproportionally affected by lung cancer.

If we are any chance of turning the lung cancer numbers around, we need to act now.

Cancer Australia and the Australian Department of Health are together leading the early design of a potential national lung cancer screening program. We need to see progress toward implementation of a national lung cancer screening program occur in a timely and evidence informed manner.

In her landmark report on the Lung Cancer Screening Inquiry, Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO at Cancer Australia, wrote:

Based on the national and international evidence, a [lung cancer] screening program using biennial low dose computed tomography in asymptomatic high-risk Australians could detect cancers in their early stages when treatment is most likely to be successful. Such a screening program would save lives, reduce lung cancer mortality in Australia by 20% in the screened population, and improve the survival and quality of life of Australians affected by lung cancer.

We need the Australian government to support a thorough and systematic feasibility analysis and then support the implementation of the most appropriate lung cancer screening option for Australia. We cannot wait decades for this vital screening program. Finding more lung cancers early is one of the few ways we can see real improvements in outcomes, and an appropriate screening program would help.

And while we are at it, a National Tobacco Strategy that provides guidance for comprehensive tobacco control measures would go a long way to supporting action to further drive down smoking rates. Lung cancer was one of the first diseases to be causally linked with smoking, and smoking remains the most common cause of lung cancer in Australia. We are seeing smoking rates in Australia at record lows with just more than 1 in 10 Australian adults smoking daily, and 97% of teenagers never having smoked. We need to make sure these trends continue and that young Australians do not need to grapple with nicotine addiction into the future.

The National Tobacco Strategy has been drafted. It sounds like it’s sitting there and is ready to go. Please release the Strategy. Release it and then fund it at evidence-based levels so that in future Novembers we might be able to mark lung cancer awareness month with news that lung cancer rates look like they are turning around.