On World Cancer Day (4th February) let’s spare a thought for those in rural and remote areas who bear a disproportionate share of the burden of the disease in Australia.
The further from a major city patients with cancer live, the more likely they are to die within five years of diagnosis. A 2004 study found that for prostate and cervical cancers, remote patients in NSW were up to three times more likely to die within five years of diagnosis than those living in more accessible areas.
Cancer is Australia’s largest disease burden and a study by the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia in 2006 confirmed marked deficiencies in cancer services in rural and regional areas.
The regional cancer centres funded by the Australian Government are a very good start to mitigating the lot of rural cancer patients, but there remains much to be done. This includes staffing the centres with appropriately qualified health professionals, establishing education programs and increasing the involvement of regional centres in research.
Most people with cancer who live in rural and remote areas need to travel to major centres for treatment, thus engendering large financial and logistical problems. Continuity of work and of care for children and the elderly are among the challenges to be met.
The burden of cancer in Australia is increasing as the population ages. Unless something is done to improve the situation, those in rural and remote areas will continue to bear a disproportionate share of that burden.
All Australians should have fair access to the health services they need, regardless of where they live. The gap between rural and metropolitan health can be diminished with national commitment and a fairer distribution of resources, including patients’ assisted travel schemes.
The joint NRHA/COSA Fact Sheet on cancer in rural areas has been updated and is at www.ruralhealth.org.au
Gordon Gregory - Executive Director, National Rural Health Alliance: 02 6285 4660
Professor Bogda Koczwara – President, Clinical Oncological Society of Australia: 02 8063 4160