Cancer experts warn against axing preventative health agency
PETER LLOYD: There are reports the Federal Government is planning to close Australia's National Preventative Health Agency.
It's a peak body with a strong record in public health. The closure plan is drawing sharp criticism from cancer experts.
As James Bennett reports.
JAMES BENNETT: Director of Gynaecology at the Royal Women's Hospital, Dr Orla McNnally, says the link between obesity and higher rates of cancer in women is well proven.
ORLA MCNALLY: When you carry extra fat you produce more oestrogen, which is the hormone that stimulates the lining of the womb. And extra fat produces extra oestrogen, stimulates the lining of the womb, which not only leads to cancers but also pre-cancerous conditions of the womb.
JAMES BENNETT: With new statistics released today showing in Victoria alone a 60 per cent increase in uterine cancer is expected in the coming 15 years, Dr McNally is clear on the vital role preventative health has to play.
So how important are government campaigns and initiatives against obesity then?
ORLA MCNALLY: They're enormously important. Not just for this condition but because of the fact that this isn't the cancer that's going to kill these women, it's the other associated conditions like heart disease and stroke that are going to lead them to die earlier than they should be.
JAMES BENNETT: Tackling obesity is one of the responsibilities of the Australian National Preventative Health Agency.
Dr McNally's sentiments come amid reports it's facing closure as the Coalition wields the axe.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Peter Dutton has this morning released a short written statement in which she's refused to deny rumours of what she termed the agency's suspected closure.
EXCERPT FROM STATEMENT (voicover): The Government has not made any announcement in relation to the agency.
Preventive health is a priority of the Government. The Department of Health has extensive expertise in this area. Our priority is to achieve the best outcomes as efficiently as possible.
JAMES BENNETT: The clear link cancer experts have drawn between increasing rates of uterine cancer in younger women - 1.8 per cent of females nationwide - and obesity, makes preventative health initiatives doubly important they say because many still want to have children.
Recovering uterine cancer victim Melinda Grant says she was fortunate her diagnosis came later.
MELINDA GRANT: I had 18 month old twins when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. As you can imagine, pretty devastating when you've got little babies. And went on to have chemotherapy, radiotherapy and brachytherapy, and, which was a rollercoaster ride.
JAMES BENNETT: You had your diagnosis after having children. But particularly for younger women who mightn't have had that opportunity yet, there's that added difficulty isn't there?
MELINDA GRANT: Very much so. So obviously my fertility issues weren't a problem really because I had two, and I was very, very happy to have two. But for the younger women diagnosed it's a big issue because obviously with fertility, some women do want to have children or even have more children and that rules it out.
TODD HARPER: It would be very disappointing if the agency was closed. At a time when we have a majority of adults and about a third of kids overweight; alcohol, tobacco and obesity account for about $6 billion of costs already to the health care system.
JAMES BENNETT: The CEO of the Cancer Council in Victoria, Todd Harper, says closing the agency would be a short sighted move.
TODD HARPER: There's no doubt that we are going to see, as a result of obesity now and into the future, increasing deaths from obesity. It's important that we take every step that we can to reduce the amount of obesity in our community, and certainly investing in education campaigns is an important part of that. I certainly hope the move to close ANPHA doesn't go ahead.
PETER LLOYD: That is the chief executive of the Cancer Council of Victoria, Todd Harper. James Bennett was the reporter.