Interview with the abc: Closer to understanding city-bush cancer divide: research

This interview appeared in

Closer to understanding city-bush cancer divide: research
Annie Guest
Published: January 21, 2016 18:45


TIM PALMER: Australians diagnosed with cancer in regional and rural areas have poorer survival rates than those in major cities, and now researchers are a step closer to knowing why. A large Queensland study has found rural women with breast cancer may be less likely to have additional treatment such as radiotherapy. The study also indicated women are choosing mastectomies over other forms of treatment.  Annie Guest reports from Brisbane.

ANNIE GUEST: For women with breast cancer, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormonal therapy can help prevent the disease spreading.

But some patients may be missing out, according to Professor Kerrie Mengersen from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

KERRIE MENGERSEN: What we found was that women who lived further away from treatment centres tended to choose or intended to have either no adjuvant therapy or, most importantly, to have no radiotherapy.

ANNIE GUEST: Professor Mengersen and her team studied the intended treatment strategies agreed on by patients and doctors in 6,000 Queensland breast cancer cases.  The starkest contrast was found between urban dwellers and those who lived more than four hours from a radiation facility.

KERRIE MENGERSEN: There’s about two-and-a-half times more chance of a woman in an urban area choosing or intending to have radiotherapy.

ANNIE GUEST: The study, published in the online journal BMC Public Health, also uncovered a disturbing finding about surgery.

KERRIE MENGERSEN: We know that those women tend to have mastectomies more often because of the advanced stage at which they’re diagnosed but this research also indicates that perhaps they’re intending to have or that they choose to have mastectomies as opposed to other forms of treatment because of their travel time.

ANNIE GUEST: And ultimately, how does it impact on survival rates?

KERRIE MENGERSEN: So if women don’t have the adjuvant therapy and that was something that would have improved their outcomes then they are going to have poorer outcomes as a result.

ANNIE GUEST: Last year, different research in New South Wales showed rural women were 30 per cent more likely to die of breast cancer. In Professor Mengersen’s study, it’s not clear whether doctors are making different recommendations in different regions, or;

KERRIE MENGERSEN: Whether it’s perceived problems with travel, for example financial stress and being away from family and work, or whether it’s lack of information about these kinds of treatments.

ANNIE GUEST: The Cancer Council’s spokeswoman, Katie Clift, is urging women to explore all options.

KATIE CLIFT: We run lodges state-wide that allow women that live in more remote and regional parts of the state to travel for treatment, to stay free of charge in major cities across Queensland and access that treatment that will improve their survival outcome.

ANNIE GUEST: Do you think that some of those women who decline additional therapy are simply unaware that there is support for them such as that accommodation?

KATIE CLIFT: Absolutely. We didn’t assess that in this study but it is very likely.

ANNIE GUEST: The study was funded by QUT, the Cancer Council and BreastScreen Queensland.

TIM PALMER: Annie Guest reporting from Brisbane.

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