News and announcements

Bowel cancer screening

The federal bowel cancer screening program ended on 31 December 2010. Cancer Council Australia is calling on the government to recommence the initiative in the 2011/12 budget. It is estimated that continuation of the program could save up to 1560 lives per year and drastically reduce the strain of bowel cancer on the health system.

“We estimate a full program would cost around $140 million per annum to run. That’s about 23c a week for each taxpayer – or fewer than 1c a week for each of the 30 lives that could be saved,” CEO Prof Olver said.

“Reductions in public hospital expenditure, PBS and Medicare costs would substantially reduce the program’s overall cost, making it cost-effective as well as life saving.”

The plea for full funding and implementation of the program, which would test people over 50 every two years, will be the sole focus of the Council’s pre-budget submission to treasury.

“We have never before focused on just one initiative in a pre-budget submission, but Australia has never before been at the crossroads of such a vital cancer program,” Professor Olver said.

“Everyone seems to support the program in-principle, so the only thing missing is the financial commitment,” he said.

To view the submission and the campaign visit

Obesity time bomb ticking for nation’s high school students

Results of a national survey released by Cancer Council Australia and the Heart Foundation reveal that 85% of Australian high school students are not doing adequate physical activity, 76% are not eating enough fruit and vegetables and 51% make food choices based on advertising.

The survey of 12,188 students in years eight to 11 across 237 schools provides the first truly national sample for a physical activity survey of young Australians since 1985.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, Kathy Chapman, said the report provided compelling evidence for the Australian Government to implement a comprehensive obesity strategy, as recommended by the National Preventative Health Taskforce.

“Australia’s high obesity rates are a cancer time bomb. Overweight and obesity significantly increases cancer risk and unless we address the problem, common cancers such as bowel and breast are set to surge,” Ms Chapman said.

National Heart Foundation of Australia CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts, said that all policy makers should be deeply disturbed by the findings.

“This piece of research confirms what we’ve feared for some time – that the high school students of today will grow up to be the heart attack victims of tomorrow,” Dr Roberts said.

Senate recommends gene patent reforms, as joint bill referred to parliament

Gene patent reform took a step forward in late 2010, with the Senate recommending a range of policy changes at the same time as a multi-partisan draft bill to amend the Patents Act was referred to a Senate legislative committee.

Cancer Council Australia Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ian Olver, said the Senate’s recommended reforms would help clarify ambiguities in the Patent Act which, if left unchanged, could restrict competitive research and equitable access to healthcare, particularly as genetic technology rapidly evolved.

“While the Senate report on gene patents stopped short of calling for an express ban on patenting biological materials, it acknowledged that the draft amendment of the Patent Act, which was tabled at the same time as the report, would provide Parliament with a mechanism for making fundamental changes,” Professor Olver said.

In response to a public inquiry into the draft bill, Cancer Council Australia and COSA have urged the Parliament to change the law, while noting that differences in opinion on potential impacts of revisions in the Patent Act might need to be resolved in the text of the legislation.

Published on 26 November 2010, two years after the inquiry into gene patents began, the Senate report recommended:

  • improving transparency;
  • adding a broader research exemption and anti-avoidance provisions;
  • clarifying the definition of invention; and
  • establishing a patent audit committee.

The Patent Act Amendment Bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament for debate later this year.

Nicotine replacement therapy on the PBS

In December, the federal government announced that nicotine replacement therapy was to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. The move has been applauded by Cancer Council Australia, Quit Victoria and the Heart Foundation of Australia who expect the nation’s cancer and cardiovascular disease burdens to be reduced as a result.

“People on low incomes smoke at much higher rates than those who are financially secure, meaning they will bear a disproportionate share of cancers caused by smoking – which are among the most deadly and difficult to treat,” Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver said.

“It is an unfair cycle of poverty, illness and early death and, unless we start to see smoking rates reducing among socially disadvantaged people as they have among the educated and affluent, the gap in health outcomes will widen significantly.

CEO of the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Dr Lyn Roberts, said reduced smoking rates in the general community over the past 30 years had seen Australia’s cardiovascular disease burden drop significantly, however the benefits had not been shared by all groups.

“People on income support face a two-edged sword, smoking at 2½ times the rate of the rest of the community but being unable in most cases to afford NRT if they require it, which can cost up to $140 for a four-week course,” Dr Roberts said.

“While the tobacco tax increase was the best thing the Government could do to drive smoking rates down among people on lower incomes, investing some of the revenue into NRT further demonstrates the Government’s commitment to making smoking history.”

Quit Executive Director Fiona Sharkie said the subsidy was the perfect complement to the April tax increase, and would likely help more people successfully quit.

“It’s fantastic the Government has recognised this connection and is giving all smokers trying to quit equal opportunity to use NRT to help them butt out for good.”

Be the first to know when a new issue is online. Subscribe today.