Deadliest cancer receives Budget boost for specialist nurses

Lung Foundation Australia

Lung Foundation Australia sets sights on MYEFO for funding of National Screening Program in wake of $6.9 million committed to implementation modelling and five nurses Australians living with lung cancer desperately need. 

  • This Budget signals intention to turn the tide on lung cancer: The community has passionately  advocated for a national screening program to prevent 9,000 Australian deaths from lung  cancer every year, coupled with increased nurse support for the 13,258 Australians diagnosed  annually. The Minister for Health has shown he knows action is needed. 
  • Our attention turns to MYEFO where anything short of funding in full for a National Lung Cancer  Screening Program will disappoint: Lung Foundation Australia says the new process  announced with Cancer Australia for a truly national screening model must advance without  delay.  
  • Screening and specialist lung cancer nurses stack up: This Government’s commitment to five  specialist lung cancer nurses is welcome relief for patients and Lung Foundation Australia’s workforce overwhelmed by the patient need while investing in lung cancer screening means  earlier detection, quicker treatment and improved survival.2

12 May 2021, Canberra: Lung Foundation Australia welcomes the $6.9 million investment announced  in last night’s Federal Budget by the Morrison Government. While the investment in five specialist lung  cancer nurses, announced on the eve of International Nurses Day, will start to make headway to  providing best practice support and improving outcomes for patients, Lung Foundation Australia says  there is more urgent work to do on screening to save lives. 

The announcement comes after a Federal Budget package was released this week, with the Government investing $354 million in women’s health which included increasing funding for screening  for breast and cervical cancers. Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer for women, as well as men, and  so must not be overlooked as the Morrison Government continues its fight against cancer in Australia. 

Lorraine Tyler, who lives with lung cancer and who previously overcame breast cancer, met with the  Prime Minister’s office recently to discuss the importance of nurses and screening. She stresses that last night’s announcement by the Government on both fronts is just the start of what needs to be a year on-year, scalable commitment to improving care by Government.  

“I personally, together with many others who currently live with lung cancer and others who have  since lost their lives to lung cancer, have met with, and have spoken at length with the Government  about the power and value of a national screening program, and of the invaluable support specialist  lung cancer nurses offer.  

“It is therefore great news that we will see more specialist lung cancer nurses as a result of this budget. This a fantastic start that brings hope to many. This recognition of the plight of patients with lung  cancer and their families by the Federal Government starts to break down the stigma that has  prevented better outcomes for us for many years. However, we need to continue to emphasise that until a full national lung cancer screening program is seen in Australia, we will continue to see lives lost  needlessly.” 

A National Lung Cancer Screening Program, once implemented, will be the first new cancer  screening program in Australia in over a decade. With the evidence in clear support of  implementation per Cancer Australia’s recommendation to Government in late 2020, Lung  Foundation Australia will work with the Government to ensure the funding of a national program is  secured as part of MYEFO 2021. 

Cancer Australia found that in the first 10 years of a National Screening Program, over 12,000 lung  cancer deaths would be prevented and over 70% of lung cancers screened and detected would be  diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is more likely to be successful compared to less than 20%  of lung cancers currently detected at these early stages in Australia (approximately 42.2% of lung  cancer cases are diagnosed at stage four in Australia compared with 4.6% for breast cancer, 17.7%  for colorectal cancer, and 4.2% for prostate cancer).

According to Mark Brooke, CEO, Lung Foundation Australia, a truly national lung cancer screening  program is the only way this Government can make genuine and critical inroads to identify lung  cancer earlier, before it gets to an advanced (metastatic) stage when the ability to survive the  condition drastically decreases.  

“When we look at the risk of dying for Australians diagnosed with breast, cervical, and bowel cancers  – as those three cancers currently supported by national, Government backed screening programs – we see that the risk of dying decreases by 42%, 85%, and 40% respectively when diagnosed through a  screening program.7

“We are confident, as confirmed by Cancer Australia’s recent feasibility report, that a national  screening program for lung cancer can – and will – make immediate inroads. 

“For the lung cancer community, last night’s investment in specialist nurses reflects years of advocacy  making clear the indisputable care and guidance they provide the community facing devastating  prognosis. We know nurses improve outcomes, and so we thank the Minister for Health and the  Government for their recognition of this.  

“More broadly though, we want to see further commitment to overcoming the stigma that has  plagued lung cancer survival rates for decades, which means delivering best-practice care and  services that inspire hope and can reach far and wide across the nation. Screening does just that,”  said Mr Brooke 

Lung cancer is Australia’s deadliest cancer. It is often diagnosed late because the symptoms can be  easily ignored or dismissed. The stigma that continues to surround the condition means people often put off discussing symptoms with their doctor which can lead to a delayed diagnosis, limiting  treatment options and survivability. 

In 2020, as a result of the pandemic, there was a dramatic downturn in Australians presenting with  symptoms to their GPs, and therefore diagnosed with lung cancer. This only enhances the importance  of a national screening program to increase early diagnosis and intervention and see lung cancer  outcomes follow in the footsteps of successful national screening programs already established in  Australia for other cancers. 

“As further evidence of the heart-breaking impact of lung cancer on the lives of those affected, lung  cancer is the leading reason for people with terminal illness to seek medical assistance to end their  lives, according to the latest figures from Victoria’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board,”Mr Brooke  said. 

“We urge the Government to intervene at pace, fund a National Screening Program come MYEFO  and turn the tide quickly for those at risk of lung cancer.” 

If you are experiencing symptoms such as a persistent cough, coughing up blood, breathlessness,  fatigue, chest pain, weight loss or a hoarse voice, please speak with your healthcare professional.

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