Speech - Private Members' Business (Prostate Cancer)








I would like to thank the members for Blaxland and Dobell for moving this motion on prostate cancer awareness. It is true that early detection is always the best protection, and the screening of men is now seen as something that is entirely normal and something that has the universal support of the medical profession. It was not always so. Back in the days when Jim Lloyd and I moved the first motion in this parliament about raising awareness of prostate cancer, that advice of early detection and universal screening as the best protection was opposed by substantial elements of the medical profession. So it is great to see how far we have come.

I pay tribute to the work of the Prostate Cancer Foundation and in particular its former chairman, Graeme Johnson, who was honoured in the Australia Day awards for his very substantial work over many years in raising awareness about prostate cancer. There have of course been many other tireless advocates in our community—Jim Lloyd is one—who have saved lives through raising awareness.

I come to this debate and discussion with a great deal of personal experience. I can stand here and say that I am one of the lucky ones. Had things been different, if I had not had a switched-on GP, I would not be here today. That might of course have been pleasing to one or two around the place; nevertheless, I was the beneficiary of a switched-on GP who, for no reason other than the fact that she was acutely aware of how dangerous this disease is, gave me a PSA test without me having asked for it specifically—because there were no symptoms. There are so many who have no symptoms who are not detected and who, as a consequence of not being detected, die a very painful and excruciating death. Early detection is the best protection and I am an example of someone who was detected early and has gone on to live a life unaffected by my prostate cancer, its diagnosis or its subsequent treatment.

What my case says is something really powerful about what needs to be done. Whilst I was diagnosed in 2001, my father, a digger from World War II, survived the war but did not survive prostate cancer. In 1989 he died from prostate cancer—an agonising death—aged 67. I was only 35 when he passed away and, like most men of my age, I was entirely unware that as a consequence of his prostate cancer I was at a much higher degree of risk of contracting prostate cancer. I was entirely unaware of that. I did not think about my vulnerability until I was diagnosed 12 years after his death, in a sudden call from my GP telling me I had had an adverse test. As I said before, the test was not taken because I had gone to the doctor complaining about any symptoms—because for many prostate cancer is a silent killer. That is why it is so dangerous.

Having watched my father die a painful death from prostate cancer, I was blissfully unaware at that stage that I had any higher degree of risk. In fact, at that stage there was a lot of advice floating around from shonks in the medical profession to the effect of, 'You don't die from it, you die with prostate cancer.' That was used by many to argue the case against universal testing, whatever the age of the patient—40-plus, 50-plus and so on. What most men still do not know—and this is where there is a huge communication exercise yet to take place—is that, if they have a first-degree relative who has suffered from prostate cancer, the risk of having cancer is not one in 10 or one in seven but one in three. That number is not really known. There are still many people who are highly at risk of prostate cancer but who are blissfully unaware of the need to be tested. Of course, testing does not come easily to many men, who do not necessarily want to have the challenge, in their terms, of a choice between their long term health or some particular impact—for example, on their sex life.

There are still many more lives yet to be saved, with 17,000 new cases each year and over 3,000 men dying. There is so much more work to be done. The good news is that survival rates are going up dramatically. That is largely a result of the great work of people like Professor Tony Costello, Phil Stricker and others, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. They have been so successful not only in raising awareness but also in the technological advances that have come through robotics and many other achievements. I will finish by saying that in government we established the prostate centres as part of our comprehensive approach to making sure that men survive prostate cancer.