Cancer Council Australia

World cancer research agency finds possible link between mobile phones and cancer

Australians should not be alarmed about findings released from an expert group classifying mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, according to Cancer Council Australia.

Cancer Council Scientific Advisor and international carcinogens expert, Professor Bernard Stewart, said the findings released in June by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), found a “possible link” between mobile phones and cancer, but not a proven one.

“These findings show limited evidence linking mobile phones to glioma and acoustic neuroma and inadequate evidence to draw conclusions for any other types of cancer,” Professor Stewart said. “However, it does sound a warning bell and highlights the need more research in this area.”

According to Australian Institute of Health and Welfare data, brain cancer incidence has remained steady over a 25 year period to 2007, between 6.3 and 7.3 cases per 100,000 Australians.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Occupation and Environmental Cancer Committee, Terry Slevin, said while IARC’s classification was ‘possible’ rather than ‘proven’ risk, it would be prudent for mobile phone users, particularly heavy users, to take measures to minimise any potential risk.

“There are practical measures people can take such as using hands free devices and more texting as an option to voice calls,” he said. “We would also urge greater caution for children using mobile phones as their brain tissue is still developing.

“However, these findings need to be put in context. While we need to continue researching the possible link between mobile phones and cancer, it is important to remind people there are many more established cancer risk factors that we can take action every day. Strong action on clear cancer risks like tobacco, alcohol, excessive UV exposure and obesity remain a priority.”

Less than half take home bowel cancer test despite high awareness

New Cancer Council research released in June shows although more than 80% of people aged 50+ were aware of a simple, at-home screening test for bowel cancer, less than half of those aware of FOBT had actually done the test.

The research also found that most respondents (75%) could not recall their GP ever mentioning the faecal occult blood test (FOBT) to them.

FOBT is recommended for all Australians 50+ every two years. Under the government’s National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, the test is provided free for people turning 50, 55 and 65.  It is also available for purchase from other sources, such as pharmacies.

Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Bowel Cancer Screening Committee, Anita Tang, said it was encouraging to see greater awareness of FOBT, however public health authorities were concerned it had not translated into higher levels of testing. Of particular concern, was poor promotion by GPs.

“Nearly all (94%) respondents saw their GP at least once in the previous 12 months, yet less than a quarter said their doctor had mentioned doing an FOBT,” she said. “We know from previous research that nine in ten people say they would take up screening if recommended by their doctor.”

Ms Tang said the most common reason given for not using an FOBT was “previous bowel tests”, most commonly colonoscopy. This suggested a large number of people were being referred for colonoscopy – a full-day procedure that requires fasting and sedation – when the simple at-home test (FOBT) might be appropriate.

“There also appears to be confusion about the role of screening, with some people citing a lack of symptoms as the reason for not doing an FOBT, despite the fact the test is aimed at finding pre-cancerous lesions or bowel cancers which often develop without warning signs.”

Sugar coated regulations fail to save children from fast food ads

Attempts to tackle Australia’s childhood obesity crisis have been dealt a blow with voluntary regulations failing to reduce the level of junk food advertising to children, while the number of fast foods ads overall have increased.

University of Sydney and Cancer Council research published in June in the Medical Journal of Australia has revealed that people who watch just three hours of television per day are exposed to more than 1640 fast food ads per year – a jump of more than 430 ads per year since industry regulations were introduced in August 2009.

One of the study’s authors and Cancer Council nutritionist, Kathy Chapman, said the voluntary code had failed in what was supposedly its key objective, to reduce the number of fast food advertisements screened specifically during peak children’s viewing hours. 

Six major fast food companies established the Australian Quick Service Restaurant Industry Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI) in August 2009 to appease community concern on fast food advertising to children.

But according to Ms Chapman, the “sugar coated” code should be scrapped and replaced with “clear and meaningful regulations” that protect children at times they are watching television and reduce their exposure to the wrong types of food. 

“One in four Australian children are overweight or obese and this important study confirms what we have known for a long time; junk food companies have failed to clean up their act under voluntary self-regulations,” she said.

“Parents are up against an unchecked multimillion dollar junk food industry and it’s not surprising that more than eight out of ten* believe children should be protected from this deceptive marketing.”

Micronutrient supplements offer little benefit to cancer survivors

Use of micronutrient supplements by cancer survivors provides little benefit, with survivors more likely to reduce the risk of recurrence and secondary cancers by maintaining a healthy weight, improved diet and physical activity, according to a review published in the July issue of Cancer Forum.

The researchers, from the University of Newcastle and Cancer Council, said cancer survivors were an important target for nutrition intervention as they were at increased risk of many chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer recurrence and secondary cancers.

Co-author, Kathy Chapman, a nutritionist with Cancer Council, said there was evidence of widespread use of supplements by cancer patients and survivors, with a study in the US reporting that up to 81% used vitamin or mineral supplementation. Most water-soluble vitamins were thought to be harmless at pharmacological doses, but there were concerns about safety, as some were known to be toxic at pharmacological doses.

In contrast, evidence that maintaining a healthy weight, improving diet and undertaking regular physical activity as ways to reduce risk, was increasing.

“An international review by the World Cancer Research Fund concluded cancer survivors should follow the same diet, healthy weight and physical activity principles for cancer prevention as the general population,” she said.

Landmark day in public health, as Reps passes tobacco plain packaging bill

Plain packaging took a giant leap forward in August when federal MPs passed legislation to introduce plain packaging for the sale of tobacco products sold in Australia from next year.

In a world first, tobacco products will be sold in unappealing olive brown packets from July 1 2012. The previous day all federal MPs were sent a letter from 260 professors of health and medicine seeking unanimous support for legislation to mandate plain packaging of tobacco products sold in Australia.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said Australia’s position as a world leader in tobacco control was significantly strengthened by the passage of the plain packaging bills in the House of Representatives.

“The evidence on how much young people in particularly can be lured to smoking by the look and feel of the packaging is compelling, so this is a landmark day in restricting the way tobacco products can be promoted,” said Professor Olver.

“Health Minister Nicola Roxon showed great courage and conviction for taking on the tobacco companies and championing plain packaging.”

National Heart Foundation CEO, Dr Lyn Roberts, said young Australians turned off smoking by the sight of a drab brown pack with a more prominent graphic warning would greatly reduce their risk of premature cardiovascular disease.

“Other countries keen to reduce the population health harms of tobacco will be encouraged by Australia’s leadership on plain packaging,” Dr Roberts said.

Cancer still most feared illness

Two thirds of all Australians fear cancer more than any other disease, according to research* released in August.

Despite a 30% improvement in the survival rate of many common cancers in the past two decades, cancer is still feared significantly more than heart disease, dementia and stroke.

Both men and women – young and old – fear the disease. Those who know someone with cancer are almost twice as likely (66%) as others (36%) to be worried about cancer.

According to Cancer Council Australia, who commissioned the survey, the high prevalence of cancer in the community is a likely contributor to this concern. Eighty-four per cent of Australians know someone who has had cancer in the last 25 years.

This year alone, more than 110,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with the disease.

Although cancer affects many of us, Australia is a world leader in cancer survival with survival rates approximately 20% higher than the global average.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Ian Olver, said this gave Australians real cause for hope.

“The survival rate for many common cancers has increased by 30 per cent in the past two decades,” he said. “Although one in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by age 85, more than 60% of cancer patients will survive more than five years after diagnosis.”

Conducted for Cancer Council Australia by Galaxy Research on the Galaxy Omnibus (20-23 May), interviewed 602 respondents aged 18 and above across Australia, representative of the population against ABS data.

Daffodil Day turns 25

Daffodil Day celebrated its 25th anniversary in August by turning the country yellow. Popular landmarks all over Australia turned yellow in celebration of Daffodil Day, one of Cancer Council’s most important fundraising events.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge’s city-facing southern pylon was bathed in a yellow glow with the event’s logo in the two days leading up to Daffodil Day.

Regions across NSW painted the town yellow joining in the celebrations turning The Cape Byron Lighthouse, the Newcastle Town Hall clock face and the Breakwater Lighthouse in Wollongong, yellow.

Victorian landmarks also turned yellow for the cause. With Federation Square projecting a yellow daffodil and the Daffodil Day logo for the two days leading up to event, AAIMI Park lit up in yellow from on the 22-28th August and the Crown Casino lobby turned yellow too.

More than 10,000 volunteers staffed over 1200 Daffodil Day sites nationally including train stations, street stalls and shopping centres. Schools and workplaces also joined in the festivities with many encouraging students and employees to wear yellow.

Daffodil Day is the largest fundraising event of its kind in the southern hemisphere and in 25 years has raised over $100 million for vital cancer research, prevention and support services.

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