Andrea Gilbert hopes that when politicians hear of her stage four lung cancer experience – as a non-smoker in her early 50s – they will think of the 12,000 lives a national screening program could potentially save.
- Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Australia
- The Lung Foundation calls for action it says could save 12,000 lives
- A lung cancer patient traveled to Canberra to support the call for a screening program
The Perth woman is part of a group converging on Parliament on Wednesday to demand the urgent introduction of a screening program which the Lung Foundation says will prevent 12,000 lung cancer deaths over 10 years.
Ms Gilbert said her case was an example of why screening was needed to detect cases of the disease, which was the leading cause of cancer death in Australia.
“Unlike me, if they find out sooner, they will have more treatment options available to them and hopefully be able to… live with lung cancer rather than just a few options,” a- she declared.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that the chance of surviving lung cancer for five years is just 20%.
In comparison, the five-year survival rate for bowel cancer is 70%.
Lung Foundation Australia is using the launch of a new report in Canberra on Wednesday to lobby the Federal Government to urgently introduce the new testing scheme.
Devastating and shocking
Ms Gilbert said she could never have imagined the diagnosis she received two weeks after being sent for an X-ray for a persistent cough.
“I was told I had stage four lung cancer, and it was devastating to me and my family,” Ms Gilbert said.
Nearly 8,700 people died from lung cancer in 2021 and 13,810 were diagnosed with the disease.
Lung Foundation Australia chief executive Mark Brooke said lung cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage.
“A targeted national lung cancer screening program will be transformative,” said Brooke.
“This means that patients will be diagnosed at an earlier stage – stage one and stage two, when there is [an opportunity] bring all new drugs and treatments to their care. »
The foundation’s report – The Next Breath, Accelerating Lung Cancer Reform in Australia 2022-2025 – also calls for the urgent recruitment of 100 lung cancer specialist nurses.
According to the report, lung cancer receives the lowest levels of Commonwealth funding for specialist nurses, with 37 nurses for 616 cases.
The report states that lung cancer causes higher levels of anxiety, stress and depression in patients than other types of cancer.
Mr Brooke said cost was the biggest barrier to introducing the screening program and additional nurses.
“[That’s] really the wrong question,” Mr. Brooke said.
“This [should be] ‘what happens if we don’t implement this’?”
Threatened by stigma
Mr Brooke said stigma was another factor in the response to lung cancer.
He pointed to a finding in the report that one in three Australians believed people with lung cancer “caused it themselves”.
“And it’s because of a mistaken belief that only people who smoke can get lung cancer,” he said.
“From our perspective, this stigma is pervasive.”
He said it affects empathy, government decision-making and investment in research.
Ms Gilbert said she had witnessed the stigma associated with lung cancer.
“When I told people that was what I had, often the first question was ‘oh, do you smoke?’ or ‘I didn’t know you were a smoker,'” Ms Gilbert said.
“If you have lungs, you can be diagnosed with lung cancer.
“I think that’s really an important thing for people to know and understand and take care of their lungs and get them checked out.”
She hoped speaking in Canberra would help convince the federal government that a national testing program was needed.
Grace, Ms Gilbert’s daughter, who also traveled to Canberra, said she was incredibly proud of what her mother was doing.
“She has been radiating strength and resilience since the day she was diagnosed,” she said.
“And I feel so lucky to be here in Canberra with her, to see her use her voice to stand up and create change for people like you and me, who may one day be able to screen our lungs early for the lung cancer.”
Health Minister Mark Butler has been contacted for comment.