2016 Alan Owen Lecture

2016 Professor Alan Owen Lecture


Friday 25 November 2016, 4:30pm
Lecture Theatre, ITAMS Building, Innovation Campus University of Wollongong

Lessening the burden of cancer across our community


About the Speaker - Professor David Currow:

Professor David Currow is the Chief Cancer Officer in New South Wales and CEO of the Cancer Institute New South Wales, the state government’s cancer control agency. Initiatives include prevention, screening and early detection systems, development and funding for research infrastructure. David has a particular emphasis on chronic breathlessness, and in improving health service delivery in palliative and supportive care. He has a strong track record in competitive research funding (NIH, NHMRC, Cancer Council) and publishing research that influences practice and policy. He leads the Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC), the world’s largest palliative care phase III clinical studies collaborative. This has generated several randomised, placebo controlled trials of off-label use of off-patent medications frequently used in symptom control internationally.

David Currow

He is also a leader in the Palliative Care Outcomes Collaborative, a national program for point-of-care data collection and service improvement in palliative care. He was a leader in the creation of the first patient-defined section of the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – the Palliative Care section.

He continues to supervise doctoral candidates from a variety of clinical backgrounds. He is senior associate editor of the Journal of Palliative Medicine and is on the editorial boards of Journal of Oncology Practice, Journal of Pain and Symptom Management and BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care.


About the Lecture:

Although the absolute number of people with cancer continues to increase across the community because of an ageing population, the rates of many cancers remain relatively stable or are falling. This is in the context of continuing increases as the population ages because other clinical conditions are treated more effectively.

To lessen the impact of cancer across the community it requires a whole-of-system response.

In prevention, the biggest single lifestyle factor in the Australian population is smoking. It accounts for twenty percent of all deaths and each year, the number of cancers where this is likely to be a factor continues to increase. Reducing smoking rates has co-lateral benefits in respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease and in cancer. Vaccine preventable viral disease including human papillomavirus and hepatitis B at the forefront of primary prevention in our community.

National screening programs include breast, cervical and bowel cancers. Each of these has demonstrated a reduction in mortality across the community in a way that justifies the investment that the community makes. It is likely in the years ahead with improving technology several other cancers are likely candidates for national screening programs.

In treating people with diagnosed cancer the biggest single factor is a systems-wide approach to ensuring that there is timely access to the clinical disciplines required to diagnose, evaluate and treat each cancer. A multi-disciplinary cancer care team is the corner stone around which care should be built. Applying to knowledge we have today will significantly improve cancers without any further development of new therapies or new clinical approaches. Despite the promise of targeted therapies, the vast majority are targeting advanced disease rather than in the adjuvant setting.

Both survivorship and palliative care are integral to good cancer care. A community that understands the emotional and existential turmoil of a diagnosis of a cancer is a community that ensures that there is excellent care for people who have had the experience of cancer. There is a particular need to focus on people whose lives will be shortened because of cancer. Palliative care is, and remains, an investment by a community that has compassion and concern for all of its members.

Ultimately, cancer outcomes can continue to improve as a direct result of the investment that are being made today to drive models of care that better address the ongoing complexity of cancer.


Professor Alan Owen (1952—2012)

Campaigner For Better Health Care - A Life Devoted to Better Outcomes for Patients

Professor Alan Owen

Last reviewed: 25 January, 2017


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