THE Wimmera’s cancer mortality rates continue to be higher than the Australian average.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s latest Cancer in Australia report comprises data from 1982 to 2014. It shows cancer mortality rates declined overall in that period, but the Wimmera’s Mortality to Incidence Rate for all cancers combined was 1.12 times above the national average.
Our rate for breast cancer was 1.14 times higher, colorectal cancer 1.24 times higher, and prostate cancer 1.66 times higher.
Cancer Council Victoria Professor Dallas English said MIRs across the country were due to random variation, but there were some patterns.
He said rates did not indicate “dangerous” areas for cancer, but differences in socio-economics, lifestyles and remoteness.
Wimmera Health Care Group and other community groups are constantly working to improve these rates in the Wimmera, addressing some of the main issues such as problems of distance from doctors and treatment through innovative solutions.
Wimmera Health Care Group chief executive Catherine Morley said overall mortality in the Wimmera were the second-highest in Victoria, although this had lowered by three per cent in the past few years.
She said there were a range of factors involved in this high rate including a major factor of travel; distance, cost and lack of public transport.
“Cost for travel and the impact that travel has on our people is significant,” she said. “The Victorian Patient Transport Assistance Scheme only covers people who travel over 100 kilometres as the crow flies, which means that even Nhill patients might not be reimbursed for coming to Horsham.
“Our population is aging and public transport is pretty rubbish in our region, making it even more difficult to access care.
“Some of our GPs refer to Melbourne, which adds cost and time to the patient experience.
“We have some great services here in the Wimmera. Increasing awareness of what is available is important.”
Ms Morley said the Wimmera Cancer Centre in Horsham – due to be completed in December – would provide an easily recognisable point of reference and information for people, allowing them to get great information regarding the disease and also find out what help was available in their area.
“We are very proficient and active in the region with utilising Telehealth consultations with a cancer nurse practitioner and either Ballarat or Peter MacCallum as well as with cancer resource nurses, who were first introduced by us in the Wimmera,” she said.
“We are doing projects specifically with Telehealth, which enables patients to attend consultations utilising video technology, thus reducing travel.
“The cancer nurse practitioner role is region-wide and works to connect people, provide education and support to both patients with cancer but also to GPs and other healthcare professionals in the region.”
Ms Morley said there were also many programs available through health services that educated and encouraged people in how to recognise cancer and take appropriate screening measures.