Every day, 18 Australians lose their life to a blood cancer, including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. A new report has revealed that eight of these 18 blood cancer patients (2,900 per year) could be saved, if only everyone received what is already considered best-practice treatment.
The Leukaemia Foundation’s report, State of the Nation: Blood Cancers in Australia 2023, surveyed 4,600 Australians with blood cancer, making it the largest and most comprehensive report of thoughts, priorities, and personal experiences of people living with blood cancer to date.
Blood cancers combined are now the second most common cause of cancer death in Australia, making it one of the nation’s deadliest cancers. Today, in Australia, 53 people will be told they have blood cancer, with this number set to nearly double by 2035.
Leukaemia Foundation CEO Chris Tanti said the new report provides a roadmap for how the lives of blood cancer patients across the country can be saved, achieving this must now be a priority for everyone.
‘Getting an accurate blood cancer diagnosis and the best treatment can be challenging.
Difficulties can arise depending on where a person lives and, in some cases, whether they can afford to pay for tests and treatments. It’s unfair that someone’s postcode or other personal circumstances could affect the quality of treatment they receive,’ said Mr Tanti.
‘The inconsistencies in Australia’s healthcare system directly impacts people with blood cancer and today’s report shows this is costing lives,’ he said.
‘We need continued focus on preparing and implementing national clinical standards to ensure Australians across the country are accurately diagnosed and have equitable access to skilled healthcare professionals who deliver best practice care.’
Among some of the inconsistencies in accessing treatment, the report found that around 13 per cent of people with blood cancer wait more than two months from their first appointment to obtain a referral to a specialist. A quarter of people with blood cancer were referred to one or more other specialists before being referred to the haematologist they needed. More than a third waited more than a month to see a haematologist.
The report also found that many life-saving blood cancer treatments and therapies used overseas aren’t routinely used or available in Australia yet.
‘When it comes to potentially life-saving cancer treatment, Australia is still falling behind the rest of the world,’ said Mr Tanti. ‘We need to bring Australia into line with international best-practice by providing timely access to new treatments and therapies, as they’re being discovered.’
With blood cancers remaining among the most costly cancers to treat, the report demonstrates the serious impact out-of-pocket costs had on patients and their loved ones. Out-of-pocket expenses often lead to significant financial challenges and bill shock, impacting the health and wellbeing of patients and carers during an already stressful time.
The first State of the Nation: Blood Cancer in Australia report released in 2019 helped accelerate a series of changes to the health system, to improve outcomes for people living with blood cancer.
Mr Tanti said the Australian government had acknowledged the need for action in improving access to treatment, as well as the need for system reform but said more needs to be done.
‘With the support of government and the wider blood cancer community, important progress has been made over the last four years. However, there is more work ahead of us if we’re to save more lives from a cancer that cannot be prevented or screened for,’ said Mr Tanti.
‘Australians living with blood cancer have made their views clear in this patient-centred report,’ he said.
‘They want a healthcare system that works for them. It is their lived experiences that are fuelling our call for action. We stand with the blood cancer expert community to address this challenge.
‘The government is a key partner and we are calling upon the Minister for Health to continue to fund the clinical standard setting work to ensure all Australians understand what to expect of their health system and ultimately to save lives.’
The full State of the Nation: Blood Cancers in Australia 2023 report is available at: https://www.leukaemia.org.au/stateofthenation.