For many people the shock of a cancer diagnosis can only be tempered by the phrase: “at least we caught it early”.
But new data shows this can’t be said for many patients diagnosed with two of Australia’s most common cancers.
For the first time Cancer Australia has produced figures showing which cancers are identified early and which are spotted in later stages.
It reveals lung cancer and bowel cancer are the most advanced when patients are diagnosed.
Just 18 per cent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at an early stage and 46 per cent of bowel cancers patients.
By contrast 92 per cent of melanomas are diagnosed early, as well as 82 per cent of prostate cancers, and 77 per cent of female breast cancer
But the data also showed bowel cancer was being detected early among people aged over 50 — suggesting the national bowel screening program had been effective.
“Participants in the bowel cancer screening program tended to have less advanced cancers,” said Cancer Australia chief executive Dr Helen Zorbas.
“I think there’s strong data that indicates the benefit of screening.”
The data also showed the majority of lung cancers, 42 per cent, were spotted at stage 4 and had spread in the body.
Patient Marilyn Nelson believed stigma was an issue with detecting lung cancer. She said since she’d been diagnosed, people often mistakenly believed she’d been a smoker and were unsympathetic.
“For someone who’s got this awful disease it’s like a whack in the face. It’s awful,” she said.
“There’s a large swag of us who never even touched a cigarette. Anybody can get lung cancer.”