Cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for an estimated 3 in 10 deaths in 2014. With the number of cases continuing to rise, calls are being made to improve the early detection rates to try and reduce the death rate. Data that has been recently released by Cancer Australia has shown that a high number of cases are still being diagnosed too late, especially in patients with lung and bowel cancer.

The researchers gathered information on the “stage of diagnosis” for the five most common cancers across the country: breast cancer, prostate, bowel, lung cancer and melanoma. Lung cancer had the lowest early diagnosis rates; just 18% were caught in the early stages. In 42% of cases, the cancer had already spread to other organs at the point of diagnosis. In patients with bowel cancer, only 46% were caught in the early stages.

This data has prompted calls for the Australian government to make early detection of cancer a priority going forward. Cancer Australia’s chief executive, Dr Helen Zorbas, said the research is a “major leap forward” for controlling cancer. She added: “The data will help us explore the relationship between cancer stage at diagnosis and survival outcomes, and the role of public health initiatives, early detection and awareness campaigns.”

Lung cancer is the biggest killer of all cancers in both men and women in Australia. This new data highlights the desperate need for more cases to be diagnosed early, which would help reduce the death rates. Last year, Cancer Council Australia urged the government to make fast-tracking biomarker tests for cancer a priority. Biomarker tests are used to diagnose patients by testing for molecules in the blood, and are considered key to improving survival rates.

Prof Ian Olver, who is a member of the council, commented that this approach to diagnosing cases could reduce the number of deaths each year, particularly for lung cancer. “It’s not an exaggeration to say that biomarkers are the silver bullet that can speed up diagnosis and pinpoint the best treatment approach for the patient,” he said

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