I was pleased last night to attend a briefing in Parliament House on a recently completed 12-month study into less common and rare cancers. In this report it was stated that rare and less common cancers make up 30 per cent of cancer diagnoses and 50 per cent of all cancer deaths. One of these less common cancers is brain cancer, and among the attendees at last night’s event were representatives of Cure Brain Foundation, founded by neurosurgeon Dr Charlie Teo AM, and Brain Tumour Alliance Australia. As co-convenor of the parliament’s Brain Tumour Awareness Group, along with Senator Ryan, and being a brain tumour survivor, I am honoured to have an ongoing association and to work with these great organisations.
Brain cancer is a terrible disease. It is often sudden in onset, late to diagnose and hard, often impossible, to cure. We have no idea what causes it, we cannot prevent it and there is no cost-effective screening. Only two out of 10 people diagnosed with brain cancer survive for five years, so I do consider myself one of the most extremely lucky people in this chamber
Compare this to breast cancer where nine out of 10 people survive for five years. Clearly, brain cancer treatment has a long way to go.
Of particular concern to me is a little known and barely acknowledged fact: more children die from brain cancer than from any other cancer or disease. Are you surprised? Let me say it again: in Australia, under our watch, more children die from brain cancer than from any other cancer or disease! I am a bit shocked. I have known that fact for a while but I am still a bit shocked—and I hope that people listening are too, because it is time that we did something about it. If we as a nation cannot find a way to allocate more money, even in a tight budget year, for research into the disease that is the biggest killer of our children then I think we are failing in our principal duty—that of protecting our children.
Another little known or acknowledged fact is that brain cancer kills more people under the age of 39 than any other cancer. It kills people in the prime of their life—people who, had they lived, would have made valuable contributions to their communities, societies and families. So it is clear to me that we need a new model of funding for cancer in Australia, one that prioritises our collective future, our children, and is weighted towards those with families and those in productive work. Of course, this will benefit brain cancer research.
I realise it is not possible for government to ensure that all cancers are treated equally but government can ensure that the most appropriate funding model is used by all government agencies, such as the National Health and Medical Research Council, when considering funding applications. We know that increasing research into a particular cancer helps to increase survival rates, but research costs money and less popular cancers are finding it tough in a very competitive funding environment to get traction. The brain cancer survival rate has hardly moved in 30 years. Without a significant injection of funds, it is probable that it will hardly move in the next 30 years. I realise that it is unrealistic to expect the cancer funding pie to grow substantially to the point where research into all cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer, would be funded. So what is needed is a new model of funding—one that puts our children first.
Increasing funding for brain cancer will improve people’s survival rates, and not just of those with primary brain cancers. Given the way knowledge is exploding, there is a very strong possibility that brain cancer can lead the way in delivering for other cancers, especially breast, skin and lung cancers, which have a high incidence of secondary brain tumours, which often lead to a quick death, as with primary brain cancer.
The brain cancer community is calling on the Australian government to help our children now. Let us all get behind this plea. Cure Brain Cancer Foundation is driving the national brain cancer research agenda and is hoping for government support to drive an increase in survival rates. Its mission is to ensure that, within the next 10 years, at least five out of 10 people with brain cancer survive for five years. I urge all senators and members to support the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation in this important initiative. Let us work together to ensure that brain cancer is no longer the No. 1 killer of our children.