Is there a cure for cancer?

Rumor has it there is a single cure for cancer locked away from those who need it. This is one of the most common cancer myths people search for online. But, how can this be? Cancer is not one, but hundreds of diseases. There may be no magic pill for all cancers, but prevention, detection and treatment for most cancer types is evolving, improving and saving thousands of Australians each year.

Each cancer has to be considered and treated accordingly. Each type of cancer is biologically different from the other, and each causes a whole set of different problems, which must be treated in different ways.

But, it’s important to know that we are making progress on cancer. 

More people are surviving the disease than ever before, treatment options are getting better and we are now far better set up to support cancer patients and their loved ones.

So, let’s put this into context. Twenty years ago, we launched Cancer Council’s Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and as the key fundraising event enters adulthood, it’s a good time to reflect on some dramatic achievements that have been made on cancer during its lifetime.

Today, we now have almost 30 per cent less cancer deaths in Australia than in the late 80s – this translates to 61,000 cancer deaths being avoided in 20 years.  Put simply, that’s 61,000 less families having to hear the devastating news that a loved one has been lost to cancer.

What is important to know is that this hasn’t been down to a single silver bullet solution.  Rather, it has been due to a huge amount of research here in Australia and globally with many of our partners.  It’s also due to breakthroughs in new treatments and beefed up prevention program commitments.  After all, the adage that prevention is better than cure still rings true.

Today, we have launched a new report that highlights these advances, giving details of the top three cancers that have seen the most significant gains and which ones are lagging behind when it comes to expected deaths averted.

Breast cancer has seen a drop in deaths due to a combination of earlier detection and improved treatment. Meanwhile, the reduction in lung cancer deaths is related to male and female smoking trends and tobacco education.

The late 1980s was a pivotal point in the cancer fight, from this point forward we introduced national screening programs, national prevention awareness campaigns and, in 1996, we finally recognised cancer as a national health priority – investing in research, treatment, information and support.

During these crucial two decades, we also declared war on tobacco, which was and remains the number one cause of preventable death in Australia taking about 15,000-19,000 lives every year.  No longer was it acceptable for workplaces and aircrafts to be clogged with toxic tobacco fumes, and at the tail end of the century we started to see bans on tobacco advertising in newspapers and magazines.  Today, we continue our work in this area and won’t rest until no more lives are unnecessarily taken by tobacco.

Educating our nation about cancer prevention has been a huge game changer. People now know the risks of smoking, drinking alcohol, lying in the sun and eating fatty and unhealthy junk food. Armed with this knowledge people can now make an informed choice. This has the potential to cut an individual’s cancer risk by 30 per cent.

Australia’s key game changers over the last few decades also include the introduction of a number of national screening and vaccination programs. However, the plethora of confusing messages about the cancer burden leaves the impression that interventions are not working.

In a minefield of bad news the new Cancer Council report clearly highlights that huge amounts of progress are being made with about 8,000 deaths averted. The time period reviewed in this study featured widespread implementation of many cancer programs. 

The full success of many of the interventions has still to be seen. Australia has come a long way, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We are world leaders in many areas of cancer interventions and we need to continue with this. We also need to keep up our successful global collaborations in a combined effort to discover more preventative measures, earlier detection methods and improved treatment to reduce the cancer burden in Australia and further afield.

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