18 November 2020

Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (23:39:22): Worldwide, Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is November and World Pancreatic Cancer Day is on 19 November. Pancreatic cancer is a devastating disease with a dismal prognosis and the five-year survival rate is now just over 10 per cent. My father, Brian O'Neill, was one of about 3,000 Australians diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018, and ironically he was diagnosed in November. Like most Australian families, mine had not been much aware of this illness until it hit us. My father passed away the day after the New South Wales State election in March 2019—the day after I was elected to represent the great electorate of Coogee and just four months after his diagnosis, which is in line with the median survival time for people with this disease.

Pancreatic cancer is the tenth most common cancer in both men and women in Australia, the third most common cause of cancer death overall and is predicted to be the second most common within the next decade. The survival rate for pancreatic cancer has only improved very slightly in recent years and a major factor is late diagnosis, when the disease is often locally advanced or metastatic. In this month of November one practical thing we can all do to assist in combating this disease is to spread awareness of its symptoms. Most of us, including GPs it seems, have little knowledge of the disease. The only medium-term symptom my father displayed was a very sore back, but later pain in the abdomen, a loss of appetite and weight loss. The Cancer Council of Australia lists these and other symptoms on its website. Be aware and spread the word!

We can also support medical research. I am proud to say that the electorate of Coogee is home to a leading group of medical researchers headed by Associate Professor Phoebe Phillips in the Pancreatic Translational Research Group at the University of New South Wales. Phoebe and her team are focused on developing new ways of destroying tumour cells in the pancreas, which are very resistant to chemotherapy. Their focus is on identifying novel therapeutic approaches for pancreatic cancer, including targeting the extensive scarring that enhances pancreatic cancer progression. It is, however, very disappointing and sad that efforts to combat pancreatic cancer have been set back this year by factors associated with COVID-19. It is shocking that this Federal Government and State governments have stood by as universities have retrenched large numbers of medical researchers, whose positions it would seem were only made possible by the fees collected from international students.

What an appalling situation. We may win the fight against COVID-19 but how long will it take for our medical research facilities in institutions such as the University of New South Wales to recover? Raising awareness of pancreatic cancer and its symptoms, making a tax-deductible donation to pancreatic research, supporting a friend dealing with this dreadful disease or even just wearing purple—the official pancreatic cancer colour—are some of the ways we can all help in the fight against this dreadful disease. I call upon the Government to fund our vital medical research facilities properly and, particularly in this month of November, I call upon the Government to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research.