Study finds rural cancer patients suffer from lack of facilities

Workers at the launch of the Radiation Therapy for Regional Australia campaign at the GenesisCare in Newcastle.
Workers at the launch of the Radiation Therapy for Regional Australia campaign at the GenesisCare in Newcastle.

Cancer sufferers in the Nambucca Shire are dying prematurely because of poor access to radiation therapy, with studies showing regional cancer patients are 35 per cent more likely to die within five years of diagnosis than city patients.

Professor Peter O'Brien of the Radiation Therapy Advisory Group (RTAG) says that people living around Kempsey just can't get timely access to the treatment they desperately need.

To access radiation therapy they must travel to Port Macquarie - for some, that's more than two hours round trip.

A lack of access to radiation therapy means lower survival rates, avoidable surgeries, long-distance travel and weeks away from home for regional cancer patients.

Prof O'Brien says that in Australia generally radiation therapy is under-used in the fight against cancer.

In Europe and North America, one in two cancer patients receive it as part of their treatment; here, it is only one in three.

Those least likely to benefit from this potentially life-saving treatment are regional cancer patients living in places like Kempsey and Nambucca, because the treatment centres are simply too far away.

"Cancer patients should not have to travel two hours or more per day for radiation therapy", said Prof O'Brien.

"Radiation therapy should not mean weeks away from family for regional Australians."

RTAG has launched Radiation Therapy for Regional Australia, a campaign calling on both the Federal Government and Opposition to invest in radiation therapy services in regional Australia.

It has identified 13 population centres - including Kempsey and Nambucca - where there is a clear underuse of the life-saving treatment.

The campaign has given voice to community anger at the neglect of regional cancer patients, with supporters expressing outrage on Facebook.

The group is set to put pressure on all candidates for the seat of Cowper to commit to funding radiation therapy in Kempsey and Nambucca in advance of the Federal Election.

The campaign has witnessed success in Albany, WA where both the State and Federal Government have promised investment in a new radiation therapy treatment centre, thanks to significant backing from Federal MP Rick Wilson and the persistent campaigning of local community members.

RTAG believes Kempsey and Nambucca deserve the same success, whether that means a new treatment centre or simply greater government subsidisation of travel and accommodation for patients who need radiation therapy.

Formed in 2017, RTAG comprises expert individuals and organisations dedicated to raising the profile of radiation therapy and ensuring it is adequately funded by government.

Lee Hunt, Executive Member of Cancer Voices NSW, said: "it is unacceptable that rural and regional cancer patients are more likely to die from their illness. Your postcode should not dictate your survival outlook."