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New data shows most lung cancers diagnosed too late

Photo: Most lung cancers diagnosed too late
Three of the five most common cancers diagnosed in Australia are diagnosed early but this is not the case for lung or bowel cancer, new data shows.

Most Australians diagnosed with colorectal and lung cancers are catching the disease when its in the advanced stages.

Landmark data released by Cancer Australia shows just 18 per cent of lung cancer cases recorded in 2011 were caught early - at either stage 1 or stage 2.

For two out of five lung cancer patients (42 per cent) the disease had already metastasised, that is spread to other organs in the body, when first diagnosed.

Less than half (46 per cent) of colorectal cancer cases were diagnosed at an 'early stage'.
Wanting to fill a gap in the data with the aim of improving cancer survival, researchers at Cancer Australia spent years collaborating with all of the Australian cancer registries and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to gather information on 'stage at diagnosis' for the five most common cancers - female breast cancer, colorectal, lung, prostate and melanoma.

But the good news did not extend to lung cancer or colorectal cancer.

The data also revealed there was significant variation in stage at diagnosis among population groups.

A higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with advancer cancer than non-Indigenous Australians.

Dr Helen Zorbas, Cancer Australia CEO said this critical new data represents a "major leap forward" in cancer control in Australia and will be used to improve survival.

"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," said Dr Zorbas.

The data also highlights the urgent need for an early detection test for lung cancer, Australia's number one cancer killer for both men and women.

Late last year, Cancer Council Australia called on governments to make fast-tracking biomarker tests for the deadliest types of cancer a priority.

A cancer biomarker is a molecule produced by the cancer or the body in response to the cancer that can be measured in blood, body fluid or tissues.

Testing for a biomarker can inform diagnosis and prognosis, as well as predict treatment response.

The council's Professor Ian Olver said this approach was key to improving survival rates, in particular 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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