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Monday, 2 June 2003
Page: 15570

Mrs MAY (1:27 PM) —In the last few weeks I have learned a lot about prostate cancer through Mr Don Baumber and my local support group. I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the motion that is before the House. Statistics indicate that over 2,500 Australian men die from prostate cancer every year. That is around one death every 3½ hours. It is the most common cancer in Australian men after skin cancer and the second most lethal male cancer after lung cancer. One in 11 Aussie men will develop prostate cancer by the age of 75. However, it occurs rarely before the age of 45. Almost 90 per cent of prostate cancers occur in men aged 60 years and over, and 97 per cent of deaths from prostate cancer occur in men aged 60 or over.

Figures for prostate cancer almost exactly mirror those for breast cancer in women. However, my own research indicates that, unlike women in relation to breast cancer, most men are either basically unaware or, at best, only vaguely aware of their risk to prostate cancer, while others are simply unaware they even have a prostate or of its vital role in sexual function and health. Who is at risk? We know that the majority of prostate cancers occur in men aged over 60 years, but it would appear that men with a family history of prostate cancer are at a higher risk of getting the disease. What causes prostate cancer? This is a difficult question to answer and the absolute cause is not known, although just getting older would appear to be the most significant risk factor in its development.

Researchers are currently investigating factors such as family history, physical activity and diet to determine if any of these have a role in the development of prostate cancer. The motion before the House today notes the reported collapse of the proposed national TV awareness campaign on prostate cancer—a campaign to raise community awareness about the cancer. Research conducted on behalf of the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia in 2001 indicated that only 54 per cent of men felt adequately informed about prostate cancer compared with 80 per cent of women who felt informed about breast cancer. I would have thought that, with those sorts of research figures, a national awareness campaign to inform men about the risks of prostate cancer and encourage them to talk to their doctor about whether they should be tested was the ideal way to get the message across.

Sadly, the major corporate sponsor of the TV campaign withdrew their funding offer of $1.5 million because of opposition from leading cancer organisations and the federal Department of Health and Ageing. Information indicates that some organisations opposed the campaign because of what they believed to be an apparent lack of scientific evidence that early diagnosis of prostate cancer saves lives. I understand the campaign was aimed at encouraging men to visit their doctor and discuss whether or not they should be tested. In my mind, this would have been a way of raising the awareness of prostate cancer and certainly would have had men stopping and thinking about whether or not to make that appointment. The campaign would have sent a signal to Aussie men and would have at least heightened the awareness for men in the crucial age bracket that they need to be better informed about the cancer and the choices available to them with regard to testing, the long-term prognosis for those who are detected with the cancer and the treatment options that are available.

There are differing views on whether or not PSA testing is reliable and whether or not it saves lives. I am not a doctor but, from all I have read, the PSA testing appears to be a reliable and effective method of diagnosing early prostate cancer. However, I do not believe that a national screening program is justified until there is a high level of evidence to suggest that screening does reduce deaths from the cancer. Having said that, I believe that more should be done to raise the awareness of prostate cancer and to provide information on the pros and cons of testing so that men can make informed decisions on whether or not to undergo testing and possible surgery.

It would appear from the statistics available that a national awareness and education program is warranted, and I would certainly encourage the federal government to explore avenues by which such a program could be developed and the information delivered in a practical and worthwhile way to enable maximum exposure to what is a very serious problem claiming the lives of far too many men. Don Baumber, the Convenor of the Gold Coast Prostate Cancer Support Group, has indicated in correspondence to me:

Those men that do seek out information for themselves report dissatisfaction in that the information is inadequate, incomprehensive and inconsistent.

These inadequacies must be addressed so that Aussie men feel confident that they can make informed decisions about the choices available to them for testing and treatment.

I commend the member for Robertson and the member for Lilley for bringing to the attention of the federal parliament the urgent need for further research in the area of prostate cancer and the urgent need for a national awareness program to assist in the early detection of prostate cancer. (Time expired)