Cancer surge strains hospitals

Cancer surge strains hospitals

Hospitals are being warned to brace for thousands more cancer patients in WA because more people are being diagnosed through screening or living longer with the disease.

Perth researchers say the number of people diagnosed with cancer and still alive has more than doubled in less than two decades.

Breast and prostate cancers in particular are placing a major strain on health services, a trend linked to the ageing population, more cancer screening and people surviving longer with cancer but needing continuing care.

Writing in a health journal, experts from Cancer Council WA and Curtin University warn the new figures "paint a bleak picture of steadily increasing prevalence and cancer burden on hospital services" which easily outpace population growth.

So-called complete prevalence rates - or the cumulative number of people alive who had been diagnosed with cancer - surged 250 per cent between 1992 and 2011, while the population increased only 40 per cent.

The number of hospital bed days occupied by cancer patients increased 80 per cent over that time. Almost half of the cancer increase in men was attributed to prostate cancer, while 44 per cent of the increase in women was fuelled by breast cancer.

Cancer Council WA director of education and research Terry Slevin said though almost 12,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2012, there were 87,159 people living in WA who had at some time had cancer.

"This data tells us that more people are getting cancer and that suggests more work is needed on prevention," Mr Slevin said.

"It also means more people are surviving longer with cancer and that has implications for the healthcare system.

"The study found that about a third of patients who had their cancer diagnosis more than 10 years ago were still accessing cancer-related hospital services."

He said the study substantially underestimated the number of people with a past cancer diagnosis because it did not include non-melanoma skin cancers.

The rollout of the national bowel cancer screening program would lead to more people being diagnosed and seeking treatment, adding to the burden on hospitals.

"The bottom line is that we need to ensure that our planning for healthcare services takes into account the growing demand by cancer patients and that includes having enough cancer doctors to provide the necessary care," Mr Slevin said.