Speech - Address To The 9th National Prostate Cancer Symposium




"Address To The 9th National Prostate Cancer Symposium"




Thanks Mike [Fitzpatrick, Chair of the AFL and Board member of the Victorian PCFA] for that introduction.

Let me start by adding my personal appreciation to Professor Tony Costello for convening the Symposium, and thank him for giving me the opportunity to come along today in support of a cause so close to my own heart. 

On a personal level, can I say how proud I am to be able to call Tony a mate.

As a former speaker here, I know the Symposium has grown to be a ‘not to miss’ event featuring the world’s leading urologists and experts in the field of prostate cancer and research.

I’d also like to congratulate the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and in particular their chairman, Graeme Johnson, for supporting this gathering.

To all the delegates, can I just say how encouraging it is to see so many brilliant minds devoted to this cause.  I welcome you all.

And can I make special mention of the doctors who have traveled from overseas to speak at the Symposium: Patrick Walsh, Andrew Vickers, Michael Kattan, William Catalona, Vip Patel, and Matt Cooperberg.

Raising Awareness

There’s always time in my program to talk about prostate cancer, even on days like today, where in a couple of hours time I’ll be releasing the discussion paper for the most comprehensive tax review in half a century.

Over the years I’ve gone from board rooms to lunch rooms to building sites, trying to get the word out that when it comes to prostate cancer, early detection is the best protection.  And how important it is for men – especially if they’re in an at-risk group – to be informed, so they can quickly and confidently make the right decision about treatment.

I generally come up against a wall of ignorance – especially when it comes to sensitive topics like sexual function.  One of my recent speeches was reported in newspaper articles with titles like ‘You can’t have sex in a coffin’.  I’m guessing it wasn’t the sort of media coverage my press secretary was hoping for.  But it’s worth it if it gets the message out about the need to be vigilant when it comes to this silent killer.

As many of you would be aware, each year in Australia we see 18,000 new diagnoses of prostate cancer which kills 3,000 men, and approximately 20,000 men are living with advanced prostate cancer at any one time.   And although most common in men over the age of 50, younger men with a history of prostate cancer in their family are at an increased risk.

During this conference you will hear from Professor Patrick Walsh from Johns Hopkins Hospital, a world renowned expert in prostate cancer surgery.  He will talk about early discovery of prostate cancer through PSA testing allowing curative surgery – this is my personal experience too.

My Prostate Cancer Story

My prostate cancer story begins with my father, Morrie Swan.  Dad was a World War Two veteran.

He was pretty stoic.  He never liked to talk about his war experiences – I suspect because he didn’t want to upset us.

The Second World War couldn’t kill him, but at age 67, secondary cancers associated with his prostate cancer did.  It was a terribly sad time as you could imagine – especially because he suffered a lot of pain.

I was 35 when he passed away, and like most men in my early middle age, I concentrated a lot on building a career.

And I can’t recall thinking much about my own vulnerability to prostate cancer until some 12 years later I received a phone call from my own doctor, telling me the symptoms I’d been noticing were due to the same disease. 

I’ve got to tell you, after what happened to my dad, it was a blow.  I was bloody scared.  And worried about how to tell my wife Kim and the kids.

The doctor had given me three options.

  • To do nothing. I ruled that out immediately.
  • To have immediate treatment, which entailed some quite radical surgery and some reasonable risks.
  • Or wait a while.

Waiting a while would have enabled me to get through the 2001 federal election, which was expected to be announced at any time, and which we were a good chance of winning.  I would have been Minister for Family and Community Services – a job I’d wanted for a long time.

But after seeing what happened to my dad and weighing up all the risks, I knew what I had to do.  I chose surgery.

Now, this was a doubly difficult time, because in the middle of my convalescence the Tampa arrived, full of refugees, taking away the previously high hopes we had of winning that election.  And I had to watch the whole tragedy unfold from the couch, as a frustrated observer rather than as someone with a role to play in the campaign.

But I understood that no matter how busy we are, or how important our professional work seems, when it comes to dealing with our health, work simply has to wait.  Because, as we all know, the local cemetery is full of indispensable people.

The thought of a career interruption or having to deal with the side effects of surgery paled into insignificance alongside the possibility of having the cancer spread to my bones, as it did with my father.  I’m lucky.  I recovered quickly from surgery, and was able to ease back into politics after just five weeks.  I’m now back to normal.

Early detection saved my life, and the skill of my surgeon saved the quality of my life.


Now, as a prostate cancer survivor, one of the things I’m most proud of in the 2008 Budget is what we can do for cancer research.

Nicola Roxon and I announced $249 million for the National Cancer Plan, to improve the well being and health outcomes of cancer patients, their families and carers, by funding research, detection, treatment, and support initiatives.

It includes funding of $15 million over five years for the establishment of two dedicated Prostate Cancer Research Centres, to develop improved diagnostic and screening tools as well as new treatments for prostate cancer.  This level of investment in prostate cancer research is a first in Australia.

The Prostate Cancer Research Centres will concentrate on developing:

  • New ways to detect the presence of prostate cancer and reliably differentiate between it’s slow growing and aggressive forms;
  • New therapies targeting the molecular mechanisms that enable prostate cancers to resist current drug treatment; and
  • Accurate identification of markers which will help predict treatment response.

As many of you would be aware, one of the centres will be located at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Victoria.  The location of the second centre will be determined through an open call for submissions, which close next week.

I’m told global linkages have also already been formalised with Vancouver, Toronto, Cambridge, Innsbruck, Cleveland, Houston and New York.

The centres are part of a broader program of medical research and supporting activities, through the National Health and Medical Research Council, being funded by the Government to the tune of more than $1 billion.

I have no doubt that providing these funds to researchers, like those of you attending this year’s Symposium, will produce remarkable results. 

And on that note it gives me immense pleasure to declare the 9th National Prostate Cancer Symposium officially open.

Thank you.