Australia's ex-top doctor and cancer survivor backs new push to save lives
When Chris Baggoley was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, he knew exactly the battle he was facing.
Because he used to be Australia's top doctor.
Between 2011 and 2016, Dr Baggoley was the country's Chief Medical Officer, advising the government on major health matters including the Ebola and Zika pandemics.
He also previously ran three hospital emergency departments in Adelaide, where he still lives, and worked with the World Health Organisation.
So he knew pancreatic cancer kills almost 90 per cent of patients within five years, and many people only live for few months after diagnosis.
"It hits you like a hammer," he told 9news.com.au
"When I told my colleagues about the diagnosis you could hear the response in the tone of their voice.
"The doctors really knew the grim prognosis."
PANCREATIC CANCER SYMPTOMS
The only symptom Dr Baggoley - who was ordered an Officer of the Order of Australia honour for his work – had was weight loss.
But he put it down to a diet and exercise regimen he'd started to shed a few kilos.
Luckily, the 68-year-old grandfather was diagnosed while his cancer was at an early stage.
He was able to have surgery to remove his tumour, followed by chemotherapy and he is now doing well.
"I was one of the 10 per cent lucky enough to have an operation, it hadn't spread," Dr Baggoley said.
"At the moment there's no evidence of disease, but you know it's such a sneaky thing. It's most likely to be hiding somewhere, I hope that it isn't."
But Dr Baggoley, who sits on the board of health organisations including for Avner Pancreatic Cancer Foundation, is backing a new push by the government to save more lives.
Health authorities have pledged to tackle the cancer, which will kill 3300 Aussies this year and is set to become the country's third biggest cancer killer, behind only lung cancer and colorectal cancers.
What's being called the 'Pancreatic Cancer Roadmap' is being put together to advise on how research and treatment can be improved.
PANCREATIC DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT
CEO of Cancer Australia, Professor Dorothy Keefe, will put together the plan and said there are two reasons why pancreatic cancer kills so many.
"Probably because we haven't yet worked out how to treat it successfully and also how to diagnose it quickly," Professor Keefe told 9news.com.au.
"It's very difficult to find until it's grown into something that causes pain or weightloss… often by that stage it's too late."
She said every stage of diagnosis and treatment will be assessed to see how it can be improved.
While there's no screening test, research opportunities will also be explored.
All the information will then be passed to government's health bosses, who will decide what should be done and where money will come from.
"We want to join up all the care, make sure every step of the journey to diagnosis, treatment, post treatment and all the support, we want to make sure all those bit are the best they can be, so people have the best chance of surviving," Professor Keefe said.
The roadmap will be presented by the end of next year.
A public consultation will be held later to get patient's opinions.
Dr Baggoley said the government's plan was "essential."
"We really hope something concrete comes out of this," he said.
PANCREATIC CANCER FACTS
Pancreatic cancer is the 8th most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia.
It is estimated 3933 people will be diagnosed this year and around 3300 people will die from pancreatic cancer.
The chance of surviving at least five years is 11 per cent.
Symptoms include pain in the upper abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, changed bowel motions - either diarrhoea or severe constipation, jaundice such as yellowish skin and eyes, and dark urine.
Contact journalist Sarah Swain: [email protected]