Cancers with a low survival rate should be the priority: Inquiry


By Mardi Chapman

8 Dec 2017

A Senate Inquiry into funding for research into cancers with low survival rates has returned 25 wide-ranging recommendations including a call to nominate the cancers as a National Health Priority Area.

Brain, lung, pancreatic, liver and other gastrointestinal cancers, adult AML, mesothelioma and cancer of unknown primary were the focus of the report.

Incorporating 326 submissions and evidence from 117 witnesses at seven public hearings, the report recommended federal, state and territory governments work towards a target of increasing 5-year survival rates to above 50% by 2027.

The Australasian Leukaemia & Lymphoma Group (ALLG) welcomed it as an ‘ambitious but achievable target should the recommendations outlined in the report be adopted’.

The report also recommended expansion of the Australian Cancer Database and the establishment of a national biobank with ‘relevant clinical and lifestyle data associated with each tumour sample’.

ALLG director Professor Andrew Roberts said access to ethically collected blood, bone marrow and tissue samples was critical to the research agenda.

“This is fundamental to our commitment to improving the treatment and lives of patients living with blood cancers.”

“The government consideration to an implementation of a national network of sample and clinical data would enable Australian researchers to better develop new innovative treatments and tests to directly benefit Australians.”

ALLG also supported practical suggestions to streamline clinical trials including reducing financial barriers to participation in international clinical trials and achieving consistency between ethics and governance approvals processes across states and territories, public and private research institutions.

The Inquiry took evidence that low survival rate cancers were disadvantaged through the allocation of NHMRC funding, despite the Targeted Calls for Research Funding program.

However the report acknowledged the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) could give priority to under-researched areas including rare cancers.

Lung Foundation Australia CEO Heather Allan called the report ‘a breath of hope for lung cancer patients’ given the low level of research funding.

“We know that research improves outcomes. We have seen survival rates for other cancers such as breast improve dramatically in the past 25 years through sustained investment in focused research.”

She told the limbic she was also pleased the recommendations were quite broad in scope – including but not restricted to clinical trials and PBAC /MSAC approvals processes.

“We’re really pleased to see the support for specialist cancer care nurses or coordinators. Currently there is no support for lung cancer nurses as there is with prostate and breast cancer yet lung cancer patients, given the low survival rates, face huge psychosocial issues.”

“One of the challenges with the new medications such as immunotherapies and targeted therapies is they are not necessarily given in the hospital. You don’t have someone standing over you as you’re getting your treatment to assist with side effects and answer questions that arise.”

She also supported the recommendation to improve awareness of low survival rate cancers among GPs with a view to earlier detection.

“The call for early detection is certainly an issue for lung cancer at the moment. While internationally, lung cancer screening programs are showing benefit we haven’t yet got a model that is proposed for Australia.”

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