Date published: 
18 January 2019
Media type: 
Transcript
Audience: 
General public

GREG HUNT:

It’s an absolute privilege to be here today at St Vincent’s Hospital. This is not just one of Victoria’s great hospitals, but one of the great hospitals in Australia, and arguably the Southern Hemisphere.

It is an institution with a storied history of saving lives and protecting lives. And I particularly want to acknowledge Toby: you and your incredible staff.

We were just up there in the day infusion unit of the cancer ward, we were led by John to meet patients such as Agostino and David, and others who are receiving lifesaving treatment, either for medicines that have been approved under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, or in some cases, clinical trials.

Whether it’s new immuno-therapies, target therapies or chemo therapies, what we are seeing in this hospital on this day is some of the best treatment in the world, which is making a difference in patients who would otherwise not be here, are being given hope, and life, and opportunity.

And to see these new medicines being trialled and then to come through on the PBS is one of the most important things that we can do, and we can only do that because we have a strong economy and an amazing health system; both here in Victoria and across Australia.

I'm delighted to be joined by Professor James St John, in many ways, the father of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program; Todd Harper from the Cancer Council, they do an incredible job – Todd, to you and to your team; And then of course our amazing patients, Tracey, and Judy, and Mark. It turns out that Judy and Mark are from my electorate.

I've met each of them on the way through, I think at the Philip Island Bowls Club and the Redhill Show respectively over the years. And their stories are the stories of the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

In terms of Tracey and Judy, they had no awareness that they had bowel cancer or symptoms. Each of them participated in the screening program. Because of the screening program, they were given notice that they were bowel cancer sufferers.

They received a treatment and they’re each, not just here but they're active, and vital, and alive and with long lives in front of them.

Mark, over two decades ago, because of a family history, sought the testing and as a consequence, was given the treatment.

And I think he's now in his 51st season of playing cricket, bowling for Elsternwick; and that's a pretty impressive effort on anybody's assessment. And so again, what we see is great progress. So the challenge of bowel cancer is part of an Australian cancer challenge.

As we age as a society, a degenerative condition affects more people. Probably 138,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year; 48,000 will lose that journey, and so it's a reality that affects almost every Australian family at some time.

Part of that is what we're facing with bowel cancer. It's the second most prevalent cancer in Australia; about 17,000 people are likely to be diagnosed this year and over 4000 of them, close to plus 4100 will probably lose that journey very, very sadly.

But one of the things we know that can make a profound difference is early diagnosis, and therefore early treatment.

That we have a five-year survival rate for bowel cancer in Australia, which is about 69 per cent; one of the very best in the world and in line with our all-cancer five-year survival rate. But where there is early detection – early detection - of that cancer, what happens is that that survival rate jumps to 90 per cent.

And so diagnosis, as a result of screening, is one of the things that can absolutely save lives and protect lives.

As part that, the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program- and Professor, I want to thank you for your history - the lives that you have saved would amount to thousands and thousands as a consequence of your leadership over decades.

And similarly, to have the Cancer Council here is about thousands and thousands of lives. We know that if we can lift the 41 per cent who take the bowel cancer screening test to 60 per cent, we are likely to say 83,000 lives between now and 2040.

So today, I am delighted to announce that the Australian Government will invest $10 million in an information and education campaign for the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.

The Cancer Council will lead that program across television and radio; across social media and print media. It will work on all platforms in ensuring that people who are 50 years and older take the test, seek the help, get the diagnosis and have the outcomes that Tracey and Judy and Mark have benefited from.

These are the living examples that if you diagnose early, you can be treated early, and you can lift your chances of survival from 69 per cent to 90 per cent. So we're planning for sheep stations.

If we can lift the rate of Australians who take this test from 41 per cent to 60 per cent, then we can save 84,000 lives over the next 20 years, and that's something of profound importance.

We want to go to 100 per cent, but let's start with a dramatic increase in the number of Australians who take a simple test. Five minutes can save your lives. If I can invite you, Todd, to say some words and then Professor.

TODD HARPER:

Thank you, Minister. And on behalf of the Cancer Council, I wanted to pay tribute to you, Minister, for this vitally important initiative that you've announced today.

I also want to pay tribute to the Government and the Department of Health, who have been great supporters of this program over many years.

It's hard to imagine a more important initiative to prevent cancer in our community. Cancer touches so many as we've heard, and yet the stakes and the opportunities are so great. As the minister has said, if we can lift cancer screening rates from 40 per cent to 60 per cent over the next 20 years, more than 80,000 lives will be saved.

And I can tell you that that is absolutely achievable; absolutely achievable. A campaign, a pilot campaign similar to what we're announcing today, run in Victoria, saw screening rates from 40 to 60 per cent.

So now, thanks to this wonderful opportunity, this campaign will be taken throughout Australia; every state, every territory, and the Cancer Council will be working hard in all of those states, to work with people, to encourage them to do the free at-home test.

We’ll be working with health professionals so that they too can encourage people to do the test.

We know that people who do the test are more likely to do that test again when they're invited two years later, so it's vitally important.

And we know, as we've heard from the minister, that people who've undertaken the test, they are becoming the advocates for others in their family, in their community to encourage them to do the test as well.

Not only is this an initiative which will save lives- we know from evaluations that have been done from previous Cancer Council campaigns, that these campaigns deliver a substantial return on investment; they save lives, they save money, and they save much of a heartache that goes with a cancer diagnosis.

My simple message to everyone out there who is 50 to 74 years of age: over the next two years the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself from cancer is to do one of these free at-home test. They’re painless and they have the potential to save lives and save much of the heartache that goes with a cancer diagnosis.

Minister, can I again thank you for your leadership on this issue. It is undoubtedly one of the most important investments that we can make in protecting the Australian population from cancer and the Cancer Council is proud to be partnering with you on this vitally important initiative.

And now I’d like to invite Professor James St John to say a few words.

JAMES ST JOHN:

Thank you very much Minister, for your kind comments and could I commend the- you and the federal government for this very important initiative.

The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program started in 2006, and when it began it was restricted to just two ages - people turning 55 and people turning 65, and that was to allow the high quality supporting services to be put into place.

And then since then the program has expanded, but the funding announced today is so opportune because as from this year, all Australians who are aged between 50 and 75, will receive a free test. And these are people 50, 52, 54 right through to 72, 74 and this is the first time that the entire age group will be covered by the program.

Even despite the phased approach, the program we know has already saved many lives. But last year, AIHW - the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare - issued a report on outcomes of the program for the first four years, 2006 to 2010.

And what they did was to compare the mortality rates in people who were invited to have a test, not just doing the test, but invited to have a test, comparing it with those people who were not eligible. And they found a significant, a substantially significant increase in the degree of protection, a lower mortality rate.

When they looked at people who had been invited to have the test, they found that those who did test - not at all surprising - had a far lower mortality rate from bowel cancer again, than those who received the test but then discarded it.

So the program is now at a stage where it is fully expanded, but it will only be effective, if as Todd said, if more people (inaudible) people are not performing the test. At the moment the participation rate is around 40 per cent. If it rises to 50 per cent, you heard again how many more people will be saved.

So in conclusion, I think we can say that the message- one of the messages is the program has reached its full potential, but only will it- sorry, will only reach its full potential when more people do the test. So when you receive the test kit in the mail, the message is: please do it.

Great. Thank you.

GREG HUNT:

Well done, well said. Thank you to the both of you. Happy to take any questions on the program and then beyond that, move to other issues of the day.

JOURNALIST:

Minister, obviously, some people might feel a little bit uncomfortable with how this test needs to be carried out. Do you put that down as one of the reasons for why it may be just been popped in the bin when it is sent through?

GREG HUNT:

Look, this is a five-minute test. It can save your life. It's worth taking the time. It's worth going through the process. The way in which it's been designed is it’s clean, it’s safe, it's efficient, it's five minutes of your life to save your life.

JOURNALIST:

What is it that’s putting people off taking the test and how will the campaign address that?

GREG HUNT:

So I might ask the Cancer Council to address that.

TODD HARPER:

So we know that many people intend to do the test but life's busy, things get in the way, so people can often defer the test and then some never get around to actually doing it.

What we saw with campaigns like this that ran in Victoria is that it was a reminder to people, it wasn't letting them forget about the opportunity to do the test.

And so with prompting from those media campaigns we saw the proportion of people that were doing the test lift from 40 to 60 per cent and we're confident that we'll see similar results with this campaign.

JOURNALIST:

So you don’t think it’s squeamishness or anything like that or people now wanting to know?

TODD HARPER:

I think there's some of that, but really, when people start to understand the ease of the test, the fact that it's free, the fact that it's painless and the benefits are so enormous, then some of those barriers that people perceive in their mind, they start to disappear because they recognise the vital importance of this test.

JOURNALIST:

How will you approach the campaign – just to yourself again, sorry – will it be similar to how you discourage against smoking and things like that? Will it be that shock value?

TODD HARPER:

This campaign will build on previous experience that we've had. People need to be reminded of the importance of the test, the value in doing the test, and reminded how easy and simple the test is to do.

So it will communicate the opportunities that come from doing the test, but it will also amplify the feelings of regret that many people have about not doing the test. Because many do, as you could imagine, after a diagnosis of bowel cancer, regret not having had that cancer detected earlier.

JOURNALIST:

So it will be through people’s stories; is that how this campaign will [indistinct]?

TODD HARPER:

We’ll be very much using real life stories, we'll be using the real experiences that people have with bowel cancer and we’ll be very much drawing upon the data that you've heard today - it really is a compelling story.

And when people think about the compelling data that you've heard today, they are very supportive and very encouraged to do that test.

GREG HUNT:

James, would you like to add anything?

JAMES ST JOHN:

Yes. I think the challenge is for people to do that first test. There are so many reasons why they put it off. It’s some of squeamishness, some of it’s just that they’re not proactive.

Once they've done that first test they wonder what they were worried about; it is so easy to do. And this is why when they receive a second test, that almost all of them will readily do the test again. But it's that first- the barrier is with that first test.

JOURNALIST:

And with this full roll out now going to be complete by the end of this year, it’s literally- it’s delivered to your door isn’t it, every two years? So there’s no need for a doctor, nothing?

JAMES ST JOHN:

It’s delivered by mail to a home. It’s a free test and it’s then returned in the mail to the pathology group who send the results to the individual and also, if they request it and it’s desirable, to their doctor.

JOURNALIST:

Do you see any difference between males and females when it comes to people taking- actually doing it or not? What’s the breakdown?

JAMES ST JOHN:

Women are better at it than men. And I guess because of their experience with breast screening and cervical cancer screening.

But the older men, their rates are rising as well and they're not far behind the women. But it's the- the hardest group are the 50-year-old men. They feel that they’re indestructible. But the message is getting through and the rates will rise.

JOURNALIST:

Thank you.

GREG HUNT:

Great. Happy to take any other questions on other topics or not. All right. Thank you very much.