NOT SURPRISED: Cancer patient Sue Johnson with her husband Ian. file
NOT SURPRISED: Cancer patient Sue Johnson with her husband Ian. file

Regional survivors on map

A WORRYING TREND: This map shows the risk of death within five years for men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The darker the shade of brown, the higher the risk. Blue indicates a low risk. cont

INSUFFICIENT testing for prostate cancer has put men across the Central Highlands at high risk of death within five years of diagnosis, according to a recent study by Cancer Council Queensland.

Marking the Cancer Council’s 50th anniversary, the Atlas of Cancer in Queensland has provided the first important clue to solving the puzzle of cancer survival across the state, chief executive Professor Jeff Dunn said.

According to the study, 7% of men living in rural or disadvantaged areas who die from prostate cancer within five years of diagnosis could have been saved if survival estimates matched the Queensland average.

Prostate-specific antigen testing, used to detect prostate cancer, is less common in rural areas than in capital cities throughout Australia, which could be a contributing factor, according to the study.

Parts of Central Queensland are also marked as high for risk of death from all invasive cancers with the risk of death increasing substantially to the north and west.

“If survival outcomes in (rural or disadvantaged) areas matched the Queensland average, there would have been 1200 fewer cancer-related deaths within five years of diagnosis in the 10 years to 2007,” said Prof Dunn.

The figures don’t surprise cancer patient Sue Johnson from Emerald, who was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer in June 2008.

“From my personal experience, I’m just surprised the risks for those living in remote areas aren’t higher,” Sue said.

“I have to go a six-hour round trip to Rockhampton for a 20 minute procedure every month. I’m a fighter so I get on with it but even I have times when I think ‘why am I doing this?’ and there are many people who just find it too hard.”

Sue was diagnosed after breaking her hip as a result of secondary cancer eating into her bone.

“(After diagnosis) I was probably home for one month in six months. Luckily my husband could take time off and travel up on weekends, but that’s not the situation for most people,” she said.

Sue said the situation could be improved if staff at smaller regional hospitals in places like Emerald could be trained in simple cancer treatment procedures.

And it’s not just the distance but also the cost of travelling to get treatment that impacts on cancer patients from rural and disadvantaged areas.

“Under the government-funded Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme we get $30 per person per night to cover travel costs, so that’s $60 for my husband and I, but you can’t even get a motel room for less than $120 per night.”

According to the atlas, smoking, drinking alcohol and not eating enough vegetables has also increased the risk of oesophageal cancer for men in the former Emerald and Bauhinia shires, with women in the former Emerald shire marked at higher risk of melanoma diagnoses.

“We know that world-wide, one-third of all cancers can be prevented by avoiding tobacco, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, being sun smart, and observing other healthy lifestyle measures,” said Prof Dunn.

“An additional 30% of cancers can be cured if we detect them early and treat them effectively.

“Individual action, encouraged by community and government support, is critical. We need increased allocation of funding, resources, and attention to regional survival.”

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