Speech - Funding Research Into Prostate Cancer




"Funding Research Into Prostate Cancer"




I’m delighted to be here today to announce the Rudd Government’s grant to establish the Epworth Prostate Cancer Research Centre.


  • Dr Philip Williams [President, Epworth HealthCare Board of Management];
  • Alan Kinkade [Group Chief Executive];
  • My good mate Professor Tony Costello [Urologist];
  • Dr Chris Hovens [Chief Scientist]; and
  • Graeme Johnson [National Chairman, Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia].

As many of you would be aware, prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in males, after lung cancer.

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.

Rudd Government initiatives

I’m very proud to remind you today that earlier this year, Nicola Roxon and I announced $249 million for the National Cancer Plan, to improve the wellbeing and health outcomes of cancer patients and 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 Rudd Government will provide funding of $7.5 million over five years to Epworth HealthCare to establish and operate a Prostate Cancer Research Centre at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond.

The Centre will concentrate on developing:

  • New ways to detect the presence of prostate cancer and reliably differentiate between its slow growing and aggressive forms;
  • New drug therapies to target the molecular mechanisms that allow prostate cancers to resist current drug treatments; and
  • Accurate identification of markers that will assist in predicting treatment response.

The Centre’s unique presence in a hospital will mean that discoveries made in the laboratory can be fast tracked into practical diagnosis and treatment options for patients.

Epworth HealthCare is ideally placed to perform prostate cancer research, having one of Australia’s busiest centres for surgical treatment and a specialist radiation therapy service for prostate cancer.

And the Epworth Hospital also holds the largest integrated tissue bank of prostate cancer specimens in Victoria.

The Research Centre will link with basic science research into prostate cancer, like that occurring at the University of Melbourne, and will also foster collaborations both nationally and internationally.

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

I know how invaluable the work of the Centre will be, having been through the ordeal of prostate cancer myself.

My prostate cancer story

My own prostate cancer story begins with my father, Morrie Swan.  Dad was a World War Two veteran.  He was one of those typical stoic Queensland returned soldiers.   He never talked much about his war experiences – I suspect because he didn’t want to upset us.  While the Second World War couldn’t kill my Dad, 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 got on with things and 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 when 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 – before the arrival of the Tampa and the September 11 terrorist attacks – we were a good chance of winning.  I would have been a Minister.

But after seeing what happened to my dad and weighing up all the risks, I knew what I had to do. I chose surgery.  And I’ve never regretted it.

For me, 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.


Which brings me back to the point of this ceremony today.  The Epworth Prostate Cancer Research Centre will progress understanding of the disease and should lead to advances in the clinical management of prostate cancer.

It will mean that men diagnosed with prostate cancer in the future will be able to face the difficult decision that I faced with more information and more treatment options.

So on that note, it gives me immense pleasure to officially announce the Rudd Government’s $7.5 million grant to establish Australia’s first dedicated Prostate Cancer Research Centre at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond.

Thank you, and congratulations to all of you for your work.