Fighting cancer harder in country than cities

EASY ACCESS: Brisbane resident Nathaniel Hefford has undergone cancer treatment in the city.
EASY ACCESS: Brisbane resident Nathaniel Hefford has undergone cancer treatment in the city. Contributed

A CANCER patient in a rural or regional area is more likely to die within five years of diagnosis than a person in the city.

And research shows that the further away people live from the city, the greater the likelihood.

Premature death rates from cancer are also higher in most regions than they are in Brisbane, although the Sunshine Coast is better off than most.

It is time this gap changed and that is why the Daily is calling on political parties to address this in the lead-up to the July 2 election, as part of our Fair Go campaign.

In Brisbane, 92 people in every 100,000 die from cancer before they turn 75.

That is compared to the Sunshine Coast's rate of 94 deaths, according to figures from Social Health Atlas for 2009-2013.

Nathaniel Hefford, 35, considers himself lucky for having great access to treatment.

He had a melanoma removed when he was an 18 year-old.

Then, when he was 30, he found a lump in his groin and cancer was also soon found in his lungs.

Mr Hefford, who lives in Brisbane's south, has been through various treatments: trial drugs, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.

He has accessed three different hospitals in Brisbane during his treatment and most of the time he, or a family member, has been able to drive him the short distance to his treatment.

Mr Hefford said he'd always had great access to medical treatment.

When the cancer was found in his lung, he went into surgery within days.

He believes he would have had to move if he lived in a rural area and needed to go to hospital all the time.

He is taking drugs to stop the cancer from growing and has been fine for about eight months.

Cancer Council Queensland spokeswoman Katie Clift said cancer patient survival largely depended on the quality and availability of treatment and services.

She said research showed about 13% of regional cancer deaths were preventable and 350 regional cancer deaths would be avoidable every year if survival rates in the bush were the same as those in the city.

Ms Clift said possible reasons for the disparities between city and regional areas came down to access to health care and to screening services and differences in cancer risk factors, such as smoking, diet, alcohol consumption and exercise.

Social Health Atlas figures showed the average annual rate of avoidable cancer deaths in the Sunshine Coast was 26 for every 100,000 people, compared to Brisbane's 23.

Figures from the 2012-13 financial year also showed the Sunshine Coast had fewer patients who were hospitalised with cancer than Brisbane.

For every 100,000 people, 3223 were hospitalised with cancer in the Sunshine Coast compared to 3598 in Brisbane.

National Rural Health Alliance chief executive Kim Webber said hospitalisation rates were higher in Brisbane because many regional patients travelled to the city for medical care.

Ms Webber was also not surprised mortality rates from cancer were higher in regional areas and that the further away from a city a person was, the more chance they had of dying of cancer.

Topics:  cancer fairgo health

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