The good news is that cancer mortality is coming down across the state, but the bad news is that a large number of people are still being diagnosed with different cancers in the Western NSW Local Health District. Central West residents and experts say they need more specialists, funding and resources in their fight against the disease. Regional journalist Sahil Makkar and Daily Liberal journalist Orlander Ruming tried to gauge the current cancer situation in the Central West.
MORE than 1900 people in the western NSW region will be given the devastating news this year that they have cancer - and 700 people in the region will die from the disease.
But the battle no longer has to be waged far from sufferers' homes as treatments and specialist support are increasingly provided in regional NSW.
And Professor David Currow, chief cancer officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, says there is good news in the decades-long fight to reduce the disease's grip.
"Across the state, we continue to see an improvement in cancer outcomes, including decreasing cancer incidence and lower mortality rates," he said.
Across the state, we continue to see an improvement in cancer outcomes, including decreasing cancer incidence and lower mortality ratesProfessor David Currow
Professor Currow says lung, bowel and prostate are the most common causes of cancer deaths in western NSW.
Prostate, breast, lung, melanoma of skin and colon are the five cancers that most affect residents in the Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo local government areas.
Prostate cancer is slightly more prevalent among Bathurst men (18.1 per cent) than Dubbo (16.1 per cent) and Orange (14.1 per cent).
Breast cancer, meanwhile, is more prevalent among Dubbo women (13.2 per cent) than Bathurst (12.5 per cent) and Orange (11.6 per cent).
Similarly, melanoma of skin cancer is more prevalent among Orange residents (10.6 per cent), than Bathurst (10 per cent) and Dubbo (eight per cent).
Comparison between Western NSW LHD and Sydney LHD
Data shows the number of cancer cases per 100,000 people increases travelling west from Sydney.
For instance, the cancer rate per 100,000 men in Sydney Local Health District (LHD) was 515.7 compared with 526.7 in Western Sydney LHD, 598.4 in Western NSW LHD and 656.1 in Far West LHD.
Travelling for treatment in the Central West
Alice Hopewood, secretary of the Bathurst Bosom Buddies support group, says people throughout the region travel to get treatment.
"Radiation is primarily done in Orange, so we have to attend there for radiation treatments. This can be for a long time, sometimes every day for six weeks," she said.
"We have the Radiation Bus which travels from Bathurst to Orange every weekday."
Malcolm Freame, chief operating officer at the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, says not all hospitals can provide a full range of services for diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
"I am aware that Bathurst men with prostate cancer receive treatment at the Orange Base Hospital," Mr Freame said.
PCFA has cancer support groups in Bathurst, Dubbo, Orange, Parkes and Forbes.
Facilities available in the Central West
A spokesperson at the WNSWLHD said cancer care services have matured, since 2011, from fly-in, fly-out medical specialists from Sydney to cancer care specialists living and working in the district.
"With the expansion of nursing, allied health, technical and administration staff, people in our local communities now rarely leave the district for cancer care," the spokesperson said.
"Between 2011 and 2017, the number of chemotherapy treatments in the district [WNSWLHD] has increased three-fold.
"Radiotherapy treatments were initially provided by a single linear accelerator and the service has now expanded to a second linear accelerator in Orange and a third planned for Dubbo by 2021."
The spokesperson said a range of diagnostic testing and surgical services are provided in Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Mudgee, Cowra, Parkes and Forbes for people with cancer.
What is needed
Ms Hopewood said more Lymphoedema specialists are required in the Central West.
"As the diagnosis of all cancers is increasing, we will continue to need more medical staff to treat people with breast cancer and other cancers," she said.
The WNSWLHD spokesperson said the district's challenges for the next five years include a focus on supporting early diagnosis of cancer through screening, diagnostic and referral processes; improved access for Aboriginal people; and implementing high quality care across the district’s vast geographic area.
It is expected that the Integrated Cancer Centre for Dubbo Hospital, which is expected to open in 2020, will take care of some of the existing problems in the Central West.
Council pushing to clear the air
THE Cancer Council believes more lives can be saved and cancer's impact on Central West communities can be reduced if the next NSW Government takes decisive action.
It is asking the next government to strengthen the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 to ensure that people working or socialising in pubs and clubs are protected from second-hand smoke; amend the Public Health (Tobacco) Act 2008 to ban tobacco vending machines; and introduce an annual licence fee to encourage retailers to stop selling cigarettes.
"Workers and patrons of some bars and clubs in NSW, including the Central West, are still being exposed to second-hand smoke because the existing laws don't adequately protect them," Cancer Council Western NSW community programs co-ordinator Fiona Markwick said.
Data showed that the standard mortality ratio (SMR), which is a ratio between the observed number of deaths in an area and the number of deaths which would be expected, is highest in the state in the Western NSW Local Health District.
Ms Markwick said 11 candidates from Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo have attended the Saving Life 2019 Forums in the past two weeks to show their support.
Cancer Council is asking the next NSW Government to remove junk food advertising from state-owned properties and support national regulations on food marketing to children.
The organisation has also been seeking support for more funds for public lymphoedema services across the state.
"Timely access to lymphoedema services remains a problem in both rural and metropolitan regions," Ms Markwick said.
"Lymphoedema is a chronic disease not only related to cancer.
"We need to ensure everyone in the Western region has this access and this can only be done via the government increasing funding and services to enable more services.
"Left untreated, lymphoedema can cause severe physical discomfort and emotional distress to those affected."
Cancer Council provides a range of services in the Central West, including legal and financial support and accommodation.
These services can be accessed through the Cancer Information and Support Line: 13 11 20.
'Poo push' to raise awareness of bowel cancer
By Orlander Ruming
Participants at the upcoming Orana Relay for Life will have the chance to push an inflatable faeces around the track.
The inflatable poo emoji will be present at the relays in the region to raise awareness for bowel cancer and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. There'll be a competition with the neighbouring towns, including Bathurst and Orange, to see who can push it around for the longest.
This year, it is estimated about 5758 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer in NSW. It's expected there'll be about 1826 deaths from the disease.
Cancer Council Western NSW community programs coordinator Camilla Thompson said the blow-up poo emoji would be a fun way to engage the community in raising awareness of a serious cause.
"Every day about five people die from bowel cancer in NSW. But the good new is that almost 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be cured early through screening and self-awareness," Ms Thompson said.
Every day about five people die from bowel cancer in NSW. But the good new is that almost 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be cured early through screening and self-awarenessCancer Council Western NSW community programs coordinator Camilla Thompson
"Finding bowel cancer early can significantly boost a person's chance of survival, which is why awareness of the cancer and screening program is so important."
The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program aims to reduce deaths from bowel cancer through early detection of the disease by automatically sending people 50 to 74-years-old a free bowel cancer screening kit in the mail.
"Currently, only around 40 per cent of eligible Australians participate in the bowel screening program. Recent Cancer Council NSW research shows that if just 20 per cent more Aussies participated in the program, 83,800 lives could be saved by 2040," Ms Thompson said.