“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” - Winston Churchill
I had some rather bad news again today, as another friend of mine was just diagnosed with cancer. I guess this is to be expected in my age group as most cancers tend to cluster around middle age at the time of diagnosis. The most cancers are diagnosed in individuals around the age of 55 years. As most of my friends and colleagues are approaching this age, it is to be expected that some of them will be unlucky enough to develop a cancer. This is especially true living in a country like Australia where, 1 in 2 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Cancer is a leading cause of illness and death in Australia: An estimated 114,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia in 2010 and more than 43,000 people are estimated to have died from cancer in 2010. Nearly 15,000 more people die each year from cancer than 30 years ago, this is due mainly to population growth and ageing.
However, the good news is that the death rate from cancer (number of deaths per 100,000 people) has fallen by 16%. More than 60% of cancer patients will survive for more than five years after diagnosis. The survival rate for many common cancers has increased by 30 per cent in the past two decades. This is due to earlier and more accurate diagnosis, better forms of treatment and increased supportive and adjunctive care for patients.
The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, which are very common and easily cured) are cancers of the prostate, colorectal (bowel), breast, melanoma and lung cancer. Around 434,000 people are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers, with 448 people dying in 2007. Cancer costs more than $3.8 billion in direct health system costs (7.2%). $378 million was spent on cancer research in 2000-01, 22% of all health research expenditure in Australia.
As far the individual is concerned of course, these statistics are of little importance and the foremost thought in the sufferer’s mind is: “I have cancer and it might kill me”. A large part of the management of cancer patients has to centre around educating them about their disease and mitigating the fear that they feel. Nowadays, many cancers can be completely cured provided they are diagnosed early and treated appropriately at this early stage.
One of the more common forms of cancer, breast carcinoma, has shown a remarkable improvement in its prognosis over the last 20-30 years. A breast cancer patient’s prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer as well as their age and general health at the time of diagnosis. If the cancer is limited to the breast, 98% of patients will be alive five years after diagnosis (this figure excludes those who die from other diseases or causes). If the cancer has spread to the regional lymph nodes the five year relative survival drops to 83%. These survival rates are considerably better than the survival rates of some other non-cancerous diseases (for example, Hepatitis C).
I talked to my friend and provided as much support as I could. I encouraged and motivated as much as possible, but most importantly I listened. Allowing a person to unload is often all that need be done in order to lift the burden they carry and to comfort the person. I shall meet my friend face-to-face of course, over the next couple days and be there to give as much reassurance and solace as possible…