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Australia’s ageing population could see baby boom turn into cancer boom

10 May 2013    

As Australia’s population gets older and pressures continue to mount on the nation’s healthcare system, the baby boomer generation could spark a surge in cancer deaths, according to a leading behavioural scientist.

In Adelaide for Cancer Council’s 11th Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference which concludes at the Crowne Plaza today, Associate Professor Penelope Schofield, Scientific Director in the Department of Cancer Experiences Research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, says Australia must prepare for what she sees as a “perfect storm” brewing on the horizon.

“As people get older their chances of being diagnosed with cancer increase significantly, so it’s definitely a concern for Australia when you consider the ratio of people aged 65 or older is set to double to one quarter of the population over the next 35 years,” she said, adding that approximately 57% of all new diagnoses of cancer and 73% of cancer deaths in Australia occur in people aged 65 or older.

“Compounding these shifting demographics, deteriorating financial circumstances and rising medical expectations are creating an unprecedented challenge for Australia’s current healthcare model.”

To address the issue, Associate Professor Schofield and the team in the Department of Cancer Experiences Research have been working to develop and test interventions that are effective, clinically feasible and sustainable in more difficult economic times.

“Put simply, more and more people are living with cancer and they expect optimal service, but we have less and less funds with which to treat them,” she said.

“It is critical we think smarter and harness technology to ensure the patients with highest priority needs receive the fastest and most effective interventions.

“The framework has been informed by the successes and failure of a number of randomised controlled trials of different psycho-social, educational and supportive care interventions.

“It’s not all doom and gloom; we have technology on our side, but we need to be intelligent and maximise its usage to fulfil patient needs.

“The team at Peter Mac are trialling a number of remote-access technology-based nursing interventions as a form of automated triage, hoisting a red flag when a person with cancer requires urgent treatment or face-to-face care.”

Reflecting another aspect of her work, Associate Professor Schofield says improving the efficiency of healthcare education will also pay dividends.

“The healthcare system will buckle if the projected increase in cancer incidence correlates to the same increase in inpatients, and more importantly, people don’t want to be in hospital,” she said.

“Rapidly improving technology presents a tremendous opportunity to better educate people with cancer to recognise and mitigate symptoms that do not require a hospital visit.”

Professor Brenda Wilson, Chief Executive of Cancer Council SA which is hosting the three-day conference, welcomed Associate Professor Schofield’s research commenting that “it is vital that we plan ahead and plan well for the challenges which will face our health system as a result of the ageing population, particularly with regard to cancer care where we have seen huge advances in treatment and corresponding decreases in mortality rates”.

The Behavioural Research in Cancer Control Conference concludes in Adelaide today after three days of presentations by leading cancer experts from around the country and overseas.

The conference is providing a platform for top behavioural researchers to share their latest research findings to help inform future population health strategies aimed at improving diagnosis, and reducing cancer prevalence and distress within the community.


Note to editors: Keynote speaker abstracts and the full conference program are available from the conference website at

Media contact: Anna Mazzone on +61 08 8291 4119 (diverts) or