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BCNA News 20 Jun 2018

State of the Nation report shows alarming gaps in care for Australians with breast cancer

A unique report by Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) has revealed that thousands of Australians are still missing out on quality care despite Australia having one of the best breast cancer survival rates in the world.

The State of the Nation report, which will be presented to government at Parliament House tonight, shows despite major advances in treatment and services and improvements to the health system over the past 20 years, the gold standard of breast cancer care that Australians should expect is still not available to everyone.

The report was conducted over 18 months and details 15,000 experiences of people living with breast cancer while highlighting the gaps that still exist. Among the stories are reports of Australians:

  • waiting more than five years for breast reconstruction surgery
  • being dismissed by GPs as ‘too young to have breast cancer’ if aged under 40
  • in rural areas electing not to have some treatments due to lack of locally available services
  • unable to access adequate therapy and support for lymphoedema, a debilitating and disfiguring condition that affects one in five people with breast cancer
  • with metastatic (incurable) breast cancer unable to access the same level of support as those with early breast cancer – including support from a breast care nurse
  • having no access to publicly-funded diagnostic mammography in some states and territories.

BCNA CEO Kirsten Pilatti said: “The disparity of care in Australia cannot be ignored. The people in this report are not just statistics. I travelled around the country and listened to thousands of women and men talk about the challenges they face accessing quality and affordable care.”

Kirsten also said Australia was failing in a number of key areas including slow approval processes for new breast cancer medications, low breast reconstruction rates, and poor access to genomic testing and breast MRI scans.

The report also highlights the inconsistency of fees for diagnosis, surgery and other treatments that exist across the country, as well as the high out-of-pocket costs experienced by many with private health cover.

Young women with breast cancer are among the country’s most vulnerable, with many reporting their breast cancer symptoms were not taken seriously and their diagnosis was delayed.

Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in Australian women. This year an estimated 18,235 Australians will be diagnosed with the disease. Despite success in public awareness, earlier diagnosis and improvements in survival rates, around 3,000 Australians will die from breast cancer in 2018.

BCNA is calling on federal and state governments as well as health professionals to address the financial, emotional and service gaps and ensure that patient-centered care informs every decision in health care reform.

“It is clear that BCNA’s mission is as relevant now as it was in 1998 when we were founded,” Kirsten said. “We will not stop until everyone woman or man diagnosed with breast cancer receives the very best treatment, care and support possible.”