The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

27 May 2009

NO.013

Prostate Cancer: The Power of Knowledge

Launch of DVD for Men Newly Diagnosed with Prostate Cancer

Parliament House, Canberra

27 May 2009

-- check against delivery --

Thanks Alan [Jones] for that introduction.

Can I say before I start that it's great to see Alan up and at 'em again after his most recent time on the bench, and looking in such rude health. His vocal chords are, as ever, unaffected.

It really is a terrific honour to be able to lend my name to this promotion and to back up the work of some absolutely first class Australian scientists and organisations leading the fight to treat and find a cure for prostate cancer:

  • A/Prof. Dr Phillip Stricker [Chairman, Dept of Urology at St Vincent's Clinic; PCFA director];
  • St Vincent's Prostate Cancer Centre;
  • The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia;
  • Steve Rubic [CEO, St Vincent's & Mater Health Sydney];
  • Paul Ramsay [Chairman, PR Group of Companies, Prime Media Group and Ramsey Health Care]; and
  • Prof. Dexter Dunphy [PCFA].

My Story

As you can understand, I've had a rather busy few months of late preparing a Budget and trying to find money in a tight financial environment for so many good causes.

But no matter how busy things are or how tight our finances are, I always try and find a bit of time to talk about the cancer that takes the lives of so many of the people we love. Including prostate cancer.

Sadly, it's been in the news a lot lately, with the passing of two great Australians: Bud Tingwell and Dick Pratt – men I'm sure Alan and a number of you knew well.

It's pretty well known that I survived my own battle with prostate cancer in 2001, just before that year's federal election.

But my prostate cancer story actually began much earlier, with my father, Morrie Swan. Dad was a digger from World War Two, who gave much of his later life to helping widows and fellow veterans through the RSL.

War couldn't kill him, but in 1989, aged 67, secondary cancers associated with his prostate cancer did.

I was 35 when he passed away, and like most men around that age, I got on with things and concentrated a lot on building a career.

I didn't think much about my own vulnerability to prostate cancer, until some 12 years later I received a phone call from my GP telling me I'd returned an adverse PSA test.

Even though I'd watched my father die a really painful death from prostate cancer, I never thought I'd get the disease myself. Just like everyone else!

I had no idea that if a first-degree relative – your father or brother – experiences prostate cancer, your chances of getting the disease increase from one-in-ten to one-in-three. And I didn't know what the symptoms were. I nearly paid the price for that ignorance.

That's why it's so important for men – especially if they're in an at-risk group like I was – to be informed.

My doctor gave me three options:

  • I could do nothing. I ruled that out immediately.
  • I could have immediate treatment, which entailed some quite radical surgery and some reasonable risks.
  • Or I could wait a while. This would have allowed me to get through the 2001 federal election, which was expected to be announced at any time.

I thought I was in a pretty important position at the time, but if I'd taken the easy option of waiting, I would have fallen victim to the mistake too many men make – thinking I was indispensable. As we all know, the cemeteries are full of indispensable people. We should never put off protecting our health.

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.

I recovered quickly, and was able to ease back into politics after just five weeks. I'm now back to normal and have been for a long time.

But I was lucky. Early detection by a switched-on GP saved my life, and the skill of my surgeon saved the quality of my life.

Rudd Government Initiatives

I know first hand what great cancer treatment can do. And that's why as a prostate cancer survivor, I'm extremely proud to be a member of a Government that is taking substantial action to improve outcomes for prostate cancer sufferers.

In the last six months, I've had the privilege of announcing Australia's first two dedicated Prostate Cancer Research Centres. These centres formed part of our election commitments, and are being funded with a $15 million grant from the Rudd Government.

One of these centres will be located at the Epworth Hospital in Richmond, Victoria. The other centre will be hosted by the Queensland University of Technology and located in Brisbane (initially at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, before being relocated to the Translational Research Institute once completed in 2012).

These centres will improve treatment options for men, by helping to:

  • Find new ways to detect prostate cancer, and reliably differentiate between its slow-growing and aggressive forms;
  • Develop new drug therapies; and
  • Find accurate markers that will assist in predicting treatment response.

The Government is also providing significant funding for prostate cancer research through National Health and Medical Research Council grants. Last year, grants for research specifically targeting prostate cancer totalled $9.3 million.

And the Budget I brought down just a couple of weeks ago included a $1.3 billion investment to improve access to world-class cancer care, particularly for patients in regional and rural Australia.

Great programs – and ones I know are above politics, having the support of every party and every MP in Canberra.

Being Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer

These initiatives are really important. Prostate cancer accounts for more than a quarter of all new cancer cases in men.

In this year alone, it is expected that over 18,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer. For these men and their families, there are tough decisions to be made about treatment.

I have to admit that when I was told I had prostate cancer, I was bloody scared. When people hear the word ‘cancer', they fear the worst.

I can think of few diseases where sufferers face as much anxiety about what treatment to undergo as that faced by men diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Many men are just as fearful of what sort of life they will lead after treatment, as they are about whether or not treatment will work.

And the only way to combat that fear is with knowledge.

When I was diagnosed eight years ago, there wasn't much information around. But I was one of the lucky ones.

I knew people, and was able to get a second opinion. And it was through that second opinion that I received the information I needed to make the right decision about treatment for my particular circumstances.

The DVD

As I said, I was lucky. But it shouldn't be a matter of luck whether you receive the information you need.

Every man diagnosed with prostate cancer deserves the best possible information on what treatment options are available. And that's what this DVD is all about: making sure that every man diagnosed with prostate cancer, and their family, have access to the information they need to make informed decisions about their treatment.

As I say in the DVD, knowledge is power. This DVD is power, because it will help both men and their families understand the current treatment options, ranging from watchful waiting to radiation therapy and surgery.

It will give men the information they need to take a more active role in their treatment. And it will give men the peace of mind of knowing that they made their decision based on the best possible information.

This DVD will mean that it doesn't matter where you live – whether you're diagnosed in Sydney with the specialist expertise of St Vincent's Clinic, or whether you're diagnosed in a remote township many hours drive from the nearest hospital. Every man diagnosed with prostate cancer will have access to easy to understand and comprehensive information on what treatment options are available.

Conclusion

I therefore want to congratulate Dr Phillip Stricker for his work on this DVD, and for all his work in the fight against prostate cancer. And I congratulate the Lang Walker Foundation for supporting such an important project.

It is a great privilege to be here today to launch this vital DVD, which will help thousands of men face one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. And, in many cases, give them many more years of life.