Now is the time for women with cancer

By Heather Cahill 1 year ago | In Industry, People
  • 1 year ago
AstraZeneca Oncology BUD Heather Cahill

8 March 2023

Now is the right time to talk about equity for the 73,000 women diagnosed with cancer in Australia last year.

It’s also the right time for the Federal Government to look at new ways to ensure Australia can provide timely access to world-class cancer treatments and care, with no women left behind.

International Women’s Day calls on us to forge together for women’s equality through this year’s theme of #EmbraceEquity. So, what can we do in 2023 to ensure equity for the thousands of women living with cancer in Australia?

Breast cancer is still one of the leading causes of death in Australian women and ovarian cancer remains Australia’s deadliest female cancer. Approximately 22,000 Australian women died from cancer in 2022. This rate is unacceptably high.

The wait time for patients to access new medicines is also unacceptably long. In Australia, patients wait on average 537 days for funded access to new cancer medicines through the PBS after the time the medicine is registered with the TGA.

This is even longer than the overall average of 410 days to list new medicines on the PBS – four times longer than in Japan, where patients wait just 98 days for new medicines to be reimbursed, or Germany where the average is 119 days, and Switzerland where they wait 149 days.

‘Equity’ is defined as being fair and reasonable in a way that gives equal treatment to everyone. To ensure equity for the 73,000 Australian women diagnosed with cancer in 2022, we need to broaden the definition of equity of access so that access to treatment and care is available regardless of cancer type, age or stage of disease. Only then, will no patient miss out.

The recent draft Australian Cancer Plan (the Plan) developed by Cancer Australia is a significant step forward for Australian cancer patients and for the hundreds of thousands that will be diagnosed with cancer in the next few years.

Australia is one of a few advanced economies to develop a cancer plan, with the Plan mapping out how delivery of world-class cancer outcomes can be accelerated, incorporating a 10-year vision for optimal and equitable cancer care. With the Plan’s imminent launch in April ahead of the May Federal Budget, we must get this right – for our mothers, for our daughters, for our sisters and for our friends.

Innovation is accelerating

The field of cancer is rapidly changing. Innovative medicines, advanced diagnostics, and digital services are fast leading to significant paradigm shifts, potential cures and more evolved clinical practices, and the Plan must remain responsive to these scientific and technological advances in cancer care and clinical practice.

Earlier diagnosis and routine cancer screening are essential, while to further change the course of a cancer diagnosis for cancer patients, it is critical that we again turn our attention to broadening the definition of equity of access – regardless of the patient’s cancer type, age or stage of disease. Currently, patients diagnosed with less common cancers are often left out or left waiting for treatments, care and support.

Australia also needs a commitment from the Government to review the way cancer medicines are assessed and valued. A dedicated approach to evaluating emerging innovative cancer medicines is urgently needed to deliver faster and fairer access, ensuring Australia remains a leader in providing world-class cancer treatments and care.

By embracing rapidly advancing science and increasing our focus on health equity, I believe Australia can get closer to eliminating cancer as a cause of death.

US President Joe Biden recently committed to reducing the cancer death rate in the US by at least 50 per cent over the next 25 years as part of a ‘Cancer Moonshot’ program – an ambitious target with an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to “end cancer as we know it today”. The top three elements of this strategy are earlier diagnosis, cancer prevention, and addressing inequities.

Here in Australia, there’s a sense of optimism that the new National Women’s Health Advisory Council, announced by the Australian Government in December, will be a platform for decision makers to address the stark differences in health outcomes for women, including key equity issues in cancer care such as delayed diagnosis, dismissal of symptoms, medical research, and health outcomes.

Along with the Australian Cancer Plan and the National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030, these initiatives present a unique opportunity to deliver change for the health and lives of Australian women with cancer that should not be wasted. Any efforts to prioritise and address equity must be accelerated.

We can find better ways to hold women up in our healthcare system and now is the time to get it right.

©MedNews 2023

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