Meeting the cancer challenge: the roles and goals of Cancer Australia

Release Date

The next five years will see a new focus in the work of Cancer Australia.

In collaboration with key stakeholders, including health professionals, researchers and consumers, Cancer Australia has identified a set of targeted and achievable goals for 2014 to 2019.

The goals are laid out in the new Cancer Australia Strategic Plan, which was released in November 2014.1

The cancer challenge

Everyone knows someone affected by cancer. In 2015, about 132,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with cancer — an average of 360 people each day. This number is projected to continue to rise and in 2020, about 150,000 people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in Australia.2

Although Australians experience among the highest cancer survival rates in the world, and survival rates are improving, cancer still remains a leading cause of death — three in every 10 deaths in Australia are from cancer.3

Cancer diagnosis and treatment are therefore key components in Australian health care. Decisions around cancer care will affect thousands of Australians and have a major impact on our health budget.

In addition, a number of trends being seen now will affect the needs and expectations around cancer care in the future:

  • More people are being diagnosed with cancer: Largely driven by an ageing population, it is estimated that the number of new cancer cases diagnosed in Australia will increase by 3.3% per year between 2010 and 2024.4
  • More people are living with cancer: Cancer survival has increased from 47% in 1982–87, to 66% in 2006–10.5 An increasing proportion of the population is living longer after a cancer diagnosis, often requiring ongoing treatments, support and long-term follow-up care.
  • Cancer expenditure is increasing: Cancer expenditure by government, private health insurers and individuals increased from $2.9 billion to $4.5 billion between 2000–01 and 2008–09.6
  • Cancer treatments and technologies are advancing: Developments in our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer are changing approaches to cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment and monitoring. However, many new treatments are complex and costly.
  • Outcomes still vary between different groups: Cancer mortality varies according to where you live, your socioeconomic status, whether you are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, and by cancer type.

Meeting the cancer challenge is therefore about making sure that all Australians are provided with the best possible cancer care, and that treatment and resources are used most effectively. This approach will deliver optimal outcomes for people with cancer, as well as value for the health system.

Cancer Australia’s roles

Cancer Australia was established in 2006 by the Australian Government as a specialist agency to provide leadership in cancer control. Cancer control focuses on addressing the impact of cancer by reducing cancer incidence and mortality and improving the quality of life for people affected by cancer, through the systematic implementation of evidence-based strategies for prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis and treatment, and supportive, follow-up, palliative and end-of-life care.1

The Cancer Australia Act 2006 specifies a number of roles for Cancer Australia, including:

  • Providing national leadership in cancer control.
  • Guiding scientific improvements to cancer prevention, treatment and care, and overseeing a dedicated budget for research into cancer.
  • Making recommendations to the Australian Government about cancer policy and priorities and assisting with their implementation.
  • Coordinating and liaising between the wide range of groups and health care providers with an interest in cancer.

Development of the Strategic Plan

Cancer Australia’s Strategic Plan 2014–2019 was developed by Cancer Australia in collaboration with key stakeholder groups, including consumers and the community, researchers and data custodians, health professionals, service planners and deliverers, as well as the staff and the Advisory Council of Cancer Australia. A number of consultations were held in 2013, including one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders and four planning forums attended by around 150 external participants.

Feedback gathered through the stakeholder consultations indicates that the case for cancer control remains as strong and relevant as ever, as does the need for a specialised agency to shape the cancer control agenda and guide investments in the health system. As a national body with an evidence-based and credible reputation, Cancer Australia can use its position to shape and guide best practice and reduce duplication across the system.

Cancer Australia’s goals

The strategic plan includes a set of four goals to guide Cancer Australia’s work over the next five years:

  • Shape national cancer control in Australia by leading the development of an agreed national agenda for cancer control, assisting decision makers at all levels to make informed responses to current and emerging issues and risks in national cancer control, and partnering across the national health system for improved cancer control.
  • Improve cancer outcomes by building the knowledge base to drive improvements that reduce unwarranted variations in cancer outcomes, including for groups at risk due to sociodemographic status, cancer stage or tumour type, and developing national indicators across the continuum of cancer control to drive and monitor improvements in cancer outcomes.
  • Inform effective and sustainable cancer care by developing a national framework that defines best practice and sustainable models of care across the cancer care continuum, and identifying areas to optimise safe and effective care, including through new models of care.
  • Strengthen capability for national cancer control by aligning cancer research with evidence-based priorities for national cancer control, and undertaking analysis, synthesis and interpretation of evidence to develop informed responses to issues in cancer control.

Cancer Australia’s levers are evidence and collaboration

In taking on the cancer challenge, Cancer Australia has two main levers: evidence and collaboration.

Evidence-based practice is essential to improving cancer outcomes and care. Cancer Australia identifies gaps in our knowledge across the continuum of cancer care and supports development of the evidence base, including through research grants. It also assesses the evidence that is continually being developed. As the science of cancer and genomics is one of the most rapidly changing areas in health, the analysis and interpretation of an increasing volume of scientific research and national data is critical to identifying the factors affecting cancer control.

Most importantly, Cancer Australia works to ensure that evidence is translated into policy and practice by developing position statements, clinical guidance, models of care and community information around the practical application of evidence. It is critical that Australian decision makers (at the policy, service planning, clinical and personal levels) have an authoritative, national ‘source of truth’ for information and evidence about cancer. Cancer Australia aims to be that source.

National cancer control also requires partnership. Collaboration is essential, as cancer treatment involves so many groups — health professionals, health service managers, researchers and consumers. It is important that there is communication and collaboration between them all. Cancer Australia is the key link between all the various organisations involved in cancer care in Australia, and uses an effective engagement model to drive collaboration.

Seeing the impact

Cancer Australia’s new goals represent a shift in the focus of the organisation. In developing the new strategic plan, Cancer Australia looked at the key needs and questions currently facing cancer care in Australia and the unique contribution it could make. In this way, Cancer Australia has clearly identified where it can have an impact and will focus its work in these areas over the next five years.

Cancer Australia stakeholders will see a number of impacts resulting from this:

For health professionals and services, Cancer Australia’s development of national best-practice models of care will directly guide their practice. The establishment of national indicators for cancer control will also support service delivery and practice improvements.

For researchers, Cancer Australia will continue to align cancer research funding with evidence-based priorities and establish international cancer research collaborations focused on priority areas.

For the community, Cancer Australia will promote safe and effective treatment based on the best available evidence and aim to reduce differences in cancer outcomes between groups. Cancer Australia will also provide access to the best available evidence to support decision making.

For all stakeholders, their involvement and support will be vital to the implementation of the new strategic plan. Cancer Australia looks forward to working with the Australian Government and the cancer control community around a shared agenda, to deliver informed and effective cancer control and ultimately better outcomes for all people affected by cancer in Australia.

Professor Helen Zorbas AO

Chief Executive Officer, Cancer Australia

This article was originally published in Cancer Forum March 2015 issue.


  1. Cancer Australia, 2014. Cancer Australia Strategic Plan 2014–2019, Cancer Australia, Surry Hills, NSW.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Cancer incidence projections: Australia, 2011 to 2020. Cancer Series no. 66. Cat. No. CAN 62. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012. Cancer Series no. 74. Cat. no. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW.
  4. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Radiation oncology areas of need: cancer incidence projections 2014–2024. Cancer Series no. 85. Cat. no. CAN 82. Canberra: AIHW. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: period estimates from 1982 to 2010. Cancer Series no. 69. Cat. no. CAN 65. Canberra: AIHW.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2013. Health system expenditure on cancer and other neoplasms in Australia: 2008–09. Cancer Series no. 81. Cat. no. 78. Canberra: AIHW.