Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2016


Peter Khalil: I rise in support of the member for McMillan’s motion in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is this October. Awareness of such a difficult issue begins with truly understanding the facts of the matter. Today, like every other day, 43 women will receive a diagnosis that they have breast cancer. By the end of this year, an estimated 15,600 women will have received that news. It has been the uptake of regular breast exams that has most improved the survival prospects of Australian women with breast cancer, and 89 out of every 100 Australian women diagnosed with invasive breast cancer now survive five or more years beyond diagnosis

But, while breast cancer survival rates have never been better, and do continue to improve in Australia, some of these people will receive the news that their cancer has metastasised. This is when the disease spreads to other parts of the body, like bones, lungs, the liver or the brain. It is sometimes known as secondary breast cancer. Regrettably, secondary breast cancer is essentially incurable. It will kill an estimated 3,000 Australian mums, daughters, sisters and friends during 2016. That is a heartbreaking statistic. I am sure we all know someone who has been touched by cancer. Many previous speakers have mentioned this. Survivors almost universally describe their experience as the fight of a lifetime. It is a time where every ounce of strength must be rallied and people’s limits are tested to the extreme.

It is for this reason that breast cancer awareness should be focused not only on the correlation between research and survival rates but also on how we are able to assist women through the experience of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. According to Breast Cancer Network Australia, almost a third of women with secondary breast cancer say they do not receive enough emotional support. Another one in five women say they have unmet needs for information. These women suddenly realising that their lifespan is limited presents substantial psychological hurdles. Their needs are unique. Nobody expects to be in this situation. We in this place and in society more broadly owe it to those women to urgently address that lack of support. They should never be alone in their fight. As we have heard from previous speakers, at the last election Labor committed $7 million dollars to increase support of Australian women with secondary breast cancer, as well as women in regional Australia suffering from all forms of breast cancer.

Discussion on this motion, alongside raising awareness, should be a time to applaud the hard work of organisations that do seek to support women undertaking the fight against secondary breast cancer. BCNA is one organisation seeking to support women in such situations. It is the peak consumer organisation for Australians affected by breast cancer and has more than 110,000 members across Australia. As part of Labor’s proposed investment in breast cancer support, $4.4 million was to be invested over four years to improve psychosocial support and information for women with secondary breast cancer. BCNA, in particular, proposed to deliver a telephone counselling service for women and their families staffed by oncology social workers, expanded access to specialist secondary breast cancer nurses, and better access to information through a digital platform. The BCNA currently provides specialised services to women in rural Australia. Labor had pledged to continue support for these services until at least 2020, but currently these programs are set to expire in June 2017. That rapidly approaching expiration date should be cause for alarm. I would like to take this opportunity to call on the government to address that without delay.

This motion should also be used to take the opportunity to remember the thousands of women whom we have lost to breast cancer—beloved family members and brilliant friends, gone before their time. To all the women, and their families, currently battling breast cancer: stay strong. We know you will marshal all the support and love you can, and keep faith in the knowledge that the odds that you can beat this have never been better. This motion—I commend the member for McMillan for raising it—demonstrates that everybody in this place stands alongside all those women suffering breast cancer, and their families, in their fight.