Unsexy forms of cancer deserve our attention too
Every good marketer will tell you: it’s all about the packaging. In today’s consumerist society, we’ve come to expect that products however basic and functional must be branded in a way that resonates with us through an appealing and somewhat sexy packaging.
But can we think along the same lines when it comes to cancer? Should we judge the potency of a cancer based on its packaging and what makes some cancers sexier than other? Is this simply because some cancer types benefit from celebrity endorsement and that in turn makes the cause sexy? Or is it because the more common and widespread the cancer is, the more attention it receives from the media and consumers?
Every year we see a wave of support come through for cancer types like leukaemia, melanoma and breast cancer with prolific media coverage and increased public awareness whilst other cancers remain in the background, overshadowed either because they have lower incidence rates or because they occur in parts of the body we shy away from publicising.
The reality is that these less profiled and less “sexy” cancers are often the most fatal as so few people who get them survive. Cancer of the bowel and pancreas have more fatalities than melanoma because of poorer prognosis and limited advances over time as very little research is conducted on some of these types.
Another cancer with alarmingly low survival rates is brain cancer which is a leading cause of cancer death in young people under 39 and also carries the highest financial burden of all cancers (more than five times higher than for breast or prostate cancer). But without a high level of awareness or profiling, brain cancer is also one of the most under-studied of all cancers with very little research funding and no screening procedures currently in place.
It is critical that we overcome this disparity. On average, 36 people will die of cancer every day in NSW alone and the impacts on families, carers and communities are considerable. It really is one of the biggest social issues of our time. We cannot afford any cancer to go undetected and under-researched regardless of how few or many it affects and how squeamish we feel about it.
The responsibility of fund raising for brain cancer research mainly lies on the shoulders of two key charities, Cancer Council NSW and Dr Charlie Teo’s Cure For Life Foundation. Cancer Council NSW takes a comprehensive approach to cancer control and are not limited to a single cancer type or program. We are committed to reducing cancer rates and increasing survival levels for all cancers, including those that are rarer and harder to treat. Equally important, we provide vital support services to help improve the quality of life for all cancer patients.
Research is another key component in our mission and we have committed considerable funding into the most lethal and high impact cancers that were traditionally underfunded in the research area. We have identified brain cancer and a few others like pancreatic, liver and oesophageal cancers as our current research priorities as these cancers have fewer survivors and therefore fewer advocates. Cancer Council NSW funded over $4.8 million worth of research grants in brain cancer during 2011 alone, and over $9 million over the last five years.
However with increasing cancer rates, there is an urgent need for increased Government funding into cancer research. Given the constraints on the budget, some debate whether cancer research should receive equal share of funding to education or the arts sector or even sport. And the response is no. But this is not an argument about comparative spend, it’s about a justified spend.
Current level of investment in cancer research show great returns. For every dollar invested in research, the marginal return is twenty fold more. More importantly, we can measure these returns not just through financial terms but in human lives.
As a result of breakthroughs in cancer control more people are surviving cancer and living longer and leading more productive lives than ever before. The odds of dying from cancer before 75 have dropped by 20 per cent in the last decade.
Advancement through cancer research can also reduce the demand on hospitals by developing preventive and early detection services. For example the cervical cancer vaccine will radically reduce the cost of recurrent PAP test screenings, and reductions in smoking have had a dramatic effect in reducing lung cancer rates.
So whilst we should appreciate the complete packaging of some cancers and the significant progress made in fighting these, we also need to take a closer look at the many other cancers that don’t receive the same level of support from consumers, media and Government coffers including brain cancer.
It’s time to let go of our consumerist mentality of always choosing the popular and the sexy and take up a more holistic approach to cancer control.
Brain Cancer Action Week finishes on May 12. If you would like to support Dr Charlie Teo’s Cure For Life Foundation for brain cancer research visit www.cureforlife.org.au/robust.
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