Australia’s first national cancer plan a reality

6 minute read

It covers all cancer types, across the whole cancer journey, from prevention and early detection to treatment, recovery, and end of life care.

Improving outcomes for Australians with the poorest cancer experiences, especially First Nations people, will be a priority for the nation’s first cancer plan.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Dorothy Keefe launched the landmark Australian Cancer Plan this week in a plenary address to the 50th Annual Scientific Meeting of the Clinical Oncology Society of Australia (COSA) in Melbourne.

The plan has been developed by Cancer Australia, in consultation with the states and territories, First Nations communities, clinicians, researchers, people with lived experience of cancer and support organisations.

The plan covers all cancer types, across the whole cancer journey, from prevention and early detection to treatment, recovery, and end of life care. A key priority of the plan is improving outcomes for groups with the poorest cancer experiences, with a particular focus on First Nations people.

Achieving equity for First Nations people was an urgent priority, Professor Keefe said. First Nations people are 14% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and 45% more likely to die from cancer than non-Indigenous people.

Speaking to The Medical Republic on the eve of the launch, Professor Keefe said she and everyone at Cancer Australia were “very excited” to see the plan come to fruition.

“This is the first time Australia has ever had national cancer control plan,” she said.

“And this one was created by the entire sector working together. The patients, the advocates, the researchers, traditions, the government’s it’s just great.”

She said consultation had focussed on asking people what they wanted from the plan and the response had been overwhelming.

“They want their cancer found as early as possible, they want to be picked up on screening,” she said.

“They want the world’s best treatment, and they want to be cared for and looked after, while they go through this. And so we kept that at the centre of everything we’re doing, to make it as good as we can for everyone, wherever they are in Australia and whatever cancer they have.”

The plan sets out two and five-year goals for achieving these strategic objectives, and a 10-year ambition. The strategic objectives include:

  • Maximising cancer prevention and early detection
  • Enhanced consumer experience
  • World-class health systems for optimal care
  • Strong and dynamic foundations
  • Workforce to transform the delivery of cancer care
  • Achieving equity in cancer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

“It is our aim that the Australian Cancer Plan resonates with every person affected by cancer and everyone engaged in the cancer sector in Australia,” said Professor Keefe.

Two significant partnerships have already been made for the delivery of the two and five-year goals of the plan, she said.

These include Movember, which will integrate patient-reported experiences and outcomes into service performance monitoring and Cancer Council Australia, which will develop a national cancer data framework to improve the accessibility, consistency and comprehensiveness of cancer data.

Cancer Australia has also started working on several actions identified in the Plan. These include setting up an Australian Comprehensive Cancer Network and crafting national frameworks for Optimal Care Pathways and Genomics in Cancer Control.

“The Australian Comprehensive Cancer Network is a data framework and cancer data framework for Australia so that we can measure what we’re doing and demonstrate the improvements,” she said.

“The optimal care pathways framework will ensure that every patient knows what pathway they’re on, and what the expectations of that are, so we can hold ourselves to account.

“And then on top of that is the genomic framework because genomics is such a big deal for cancer patients.”

One of the key differences between this plan and other government-funded plans was the fact that it has been embedded into a website rather than a hard copy document.

Professor Keefe said this had been very deliberate, as it would ensure that the plan could evolve according to needs and it could be accessed by all Australians no matter where they were.

“There is a multidisciplinary, multimodality navigation system across the whole of Australia, and the whole of the cancer journey, so that you get patients the appropriate help,” she said.
“If you can manage with the app and the website, yep, that’s what you do, but if you need a bit more help you get the phone line and the access to all the services that brings.

“And if you need more help, you get access to the specialist, cancer nurse who knows all about cancer generally. And then at the very peak of your need, you get the specialised, nurse for your cancer.

“And then you go up and down as you go along and across all these dimensions. So that we tailor the support to where it’s needed. Yeah. And make use of all the technology.”

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said the burden of cancer was increasing, with more than 164,000 Australians estimated to be diagnosed this year.

“While cancer outcomes in this country are generally among the best in the world, that’s not true for some people, simply because of who they are or where they live,” he said.

“Our Australian Cancer Plan responds to patients’ concerns that the health system is hard to navigate and will ensure no one falls through the gaps.

“Preventing cancer, and detecting and treating it earlier, will save heartache and pain for countless individuals and families, and also take pressure off our hospitals and wider health system.”

Professor Keefe said achieving equity in cancer outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was the most significant ambition for the future of cancer care.

“This intention is at the heart of Australian Cancer Plan,” she said.

“The Australian Cancer Plan will complement the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cancer Plan recently launched by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).

“The plan is for all cancers, with a focus on addressing disparity of experience and outcome. It covers every step of cancer care from prevention and early detection through to recovery, living with a chronic disease, or end-of-life-care.” 

Professor Keefe said the two biggest challenges for cancer care in Australia were remoteness and the widening gap between outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous populations.

Connecting care centres and treatment pathways would be integral to the success of the plan, and the formation of strategic partnerships would plan an important role in this, she told TMR.

Professor Keefe has been driving the development plan for more than two years. There has been extensive stakeholder engagement, including through two public consultations, targeted engagements, two series of stakeholder workshops and a public webinar series. Feedback was received via more than 700 submissions and consultations, encompassing more than 400 groups and 300 individuals.

The Australian Cancer Plan can be found at

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