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“Invest in local, world-class research”: Reid discusses evidenced-based decisions in addressing cancer on Q&A

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This October, Cancer Council WA launched a personalised survivorship program, Wellbeing after Cancer, to help the growing number of Western Australian cancer survivors adapt to their new life after treatment.

With more of this initiative, people are surviving cancer better than before. But the improved cancer survival rates present new challenges to support services as cancer survivors often face physical, psychological, financial and psychosocial challenges as a result of the disease and its treatment.

Ashley Reid, CEO of Cancer Council WA said more investments are needed to develop and retain local world-class expertise and better access to clinical trials for the community. Over sixty years, Cancer Council WA has invested over $50m in more than 1,100 projects and these have also contributed to the global advancements in cancer control. 

Third Sector talked to Ashley to discuss the impact of these evidenced-based decisions in addressing cancer in the WA community, and the organisational strengths needed to achieve Cancer Council WA’s future goals.

What support does the community get from Cancer Council WA?

A cancer diagnosis can be devastating for individuals and their families, but it is also a huge health burden on the community as a whole. Reducing the incidence of cancer is a major part of our work. Between a third and a half of all cancers are preventable. Tobacco smoking is still the single biggest cause of cancer so we ask people not to smoke, but we also work to support non-smokers, smoke-free workplaces, smoke-free cars, pubs and clubs to help create an environment to support those who quit.  

You’ll be familiar with some of our other messages too, be SunSmart, eat a healthy diet, be physically active and maintain a healthy body weight, reduce or avoid alcohol, support vaccination (Hepatitis B and human papillomavirus, HPV) and participate in the national screening programs (breast, cervical and bowel).  

For families affected by cancer we seek to provide support through a range of activities such as our 131120 information and support line, lodge accommodation, transport to treatment, wig service, complementary therapy and Cancer Support staff located in regional WA, to name a few. 

What organisational strengths and capabilities are important to achieve your purpose? 

Cancer Council WA prides itself on being an evidenced-based organisation. In a world of ambient information at everyone’s fingertips we seek to be a credible filter and to ensure people have the facts they need to reduce their risk and make decisions about their health. I am very proud of our capability in public education campaigns such as Make Smoking History, SunSmart, Live Lighter, Crunch&Sip and Find Cancer Early.  

Our information and supportive care services provide direct support to more than 32,000 West Australians affected by cancer each year. Our focus continues to be on supporting patients and their carers and families to meet their needs and enable them to cope with the challenges they face in relation to cancer, reduce their level of distress and build their resilience into the future. 

What are the notable gains in the cancer field? 

In the sixty years since we were founded, huge gains have been made in cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. Over this time, five year survival rates for all cancers have risen from around 40% to nearly 70% and for some of the more common cancers we have some of the best outcomes in the world.  These gains have come via huge investments in research and public education. A very specific example is the recent development of the HPV vaccine by Australian researchers which has the potential to practically eradicate cervical cancer in the future. However, we still have a long way to go. This year over 12,000 West Australians will be diagnosed with cancer and more than 4,000 will die from the disease. 

You have been in this role for two years. Is there any particular experience that has made a mark?

Cancer Council WA has an amazing team of experienced, knowledgeable and highly committed people. Coming to work every day to see how they are contributing to our purpose of reducing the incidence and impact of cancer is incredibly exciting. 

With a long work history in the community and health sectors I believe we have an obligation to reduce inequities in cancer, particularly for more vulnerable West Australians. Experience in working with government and other partners compels me to ensure we have an accessible and integrated health system that meets the needs of the patient. To conduct our vital work we need to have complete integrity and ensure we communicate well with donors and supporters which makes our fundraising efforts so important. 

How do you see Cancer Council in the future? 

Cancer Council WA must remain relevant to the needs of the community, particularly as more people are living longer with cancer and psycho-social support needs are increasing. We need to continue investment in local, world-class research and educate the community on the ways to decrease cancer risk.  We also must advocate for policy and system change to create a healthy environment and reduce the impact on individuals and their families.  

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