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Better cancer care for all

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Clinicians and bureaucrats hope to boost the survival rate of cancer sufferers following the adoption of national guides for the optimal treatment of 15 forms of the deadly disease.

In an effort to stamp out wide variations in the occurrence and outcomes of cancer in the community, the nation’s health ministers have endorsed 11 tumour specific Optimal Cancer Care Pathways (OCP) to be used as guides for specialists, GPs, health administrators, other health professionals and consumer.

Acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Dr Anthony Hobbs said each pathway “maps the key steps in a cancer patient’s journey, from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care, and describes the key principles and expected standards of care at each stage”.

Dr Hobbs said they had been developed by the National Cancer Expert Reference Group [NCERG], comprising clinical oncologists, GPs and consumers, in consultation with medical colleges and peak health organisations including the AMA, with the aim of reducing significant differences in outcomes for cancer sufferers according to their background, wealth and location.

“Outcomes for Australian cancer patients have improved dramatically over the past 30 years, with current survival rates now about 67 per cent overall,” he said.

Dr Hobbs said this had been achieved through a combination of preventive action, cancer screening and action on early diagnosis.

“However despite the progress, Australia still has unacceptable variation in cancer rates and outcomes which differ by Indigenous status, geographical location and socioeconomic status. The NCERG’s major focus has been on reducing this variation,” he said.

Altogether, pathways for 15 tumour types have been developed and adopted by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council for implementation by all states and territories, and 11 have been endorsed by the COAG Health Council. The remaining four are due to be considered later this year. All have been endorsed by Cancer Australia and Cancer Council Australia.

The 15 tumour streams covered by the OCPs are: lung, colorectal, hepatocellular carcinoma, prostate, lymphoma, melanoma, pancreatic, ovarian, malignant glioma, head and neck, breast, oesophagogastric, basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, endometrial and acute myeloid leukaemia.

Each Pathway is presented in three formats.

Detailed clinical pathways for cancer specialists, health professionals and administrators and quick reference guides for GPs and other primary providers can both be found at: http://www.cancer.org.au/health-professionals/optimal-cancer-care-pathways.html.

‘What to expect’ guides for patients and their carers can be found at: http://www.cancerpathways.org.au/optimal-care-pathways

Adrian Rollins