Cancer risk factors changing over time


hand with cigarette

As some of Australia’s cancer risk factors improve, others are worsening – with obesity becoming a significant contributor in developed countries.

There are four major messages being disseminated for World Cancer Day (4 Feb) internationally: healthy life choices, early detection, treatment for all and maximising quality of life.

“The context of these changes with different countries – for example, in Australia there’s quite a paradox in that we have probably the world’s best policy settings for tobacco control, or close to it, but we’re in the top five most obese countries in the OECD, so there’s a contrast in our behavioural risk factors,” says Paul Grogan, Director of Advocacy, Cancer Council Australia.

“In terms of our age-adjusted death rates, in Australia we’re doing really well with some of the more common cancers, but life expectancy for something like pancreatic cancer is very poor.

“Lung cancer is another one: the incidence is not up there with far more common cancers like prostate or breast, but the mortality rates are still way higher than others. We’re not that good at treating it, though we’re doing much better in relative terms because far few people in Australia are smoking.”

Mr Grogan says the Council encourages pharmacy to help spread evidence-based messages about cancer prevention.

“We know community pharmacy can provide sunscreen and hats, for example; pharmacy is also part of providing medicines for cancer treatment as well,” he says. “Pharmacists are an important part of the mix in cancer control.”

Bowel cancer is a priority in early detection at the moment in Australia, he told the AJP.

“There’s a plan to finalise the screening program by 2020 so that people get their own screening kits every two years if they’re in the target age group,” he says.

“But in the interim, there’s still a strong role for pharmacy to target people who are not currently within the screening cohort. Pharmacy is an important component of the health system and we encourage a level of oncology awareness in all health care sectors.”

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