Rural cancer patients missing out: study

Stephanie Gardiner |

Dr Arlen Rowe led the study into follow-up care for cancer patients in rural areas.
Dr Arlen Rowe led the study into follow-up care for cancer patients in rural areas.

Cancer patients in rural Australia are missing out on critical information about recovery and disease recurrence, potentially affecting their chances of survival, a study has found.

A survey of 201 cancer patients from rural Queensland found 65 per cent did not receive survivorship care plans, documents which detail follow-up appointments, treatment side effects, and signs the disease has returned.

The University of Southern Queensland study is part of a project investigating why people in rural areas are up to 31 per cent more likely to die within five years of a diagnosis, compared to patients in the city.

Lead author Arlen Rowe said there had been limited research into rural patients’ access to survivorship plans, which are recommended worldwide.

“You can see how if people don’t receive that information, potentially, that could be contributing to those disparities in survival rates,” Dr Rowe told AAP.

The results, published in the Journal of Cancer Survivorship, also found 30 per cent of the participants did not receive information about medical resources in their communities.

There is also a gap in information about signs and symptoms of disease recurrence, future screening, financial support and counselling programs, and recommendations for diet and exercise.

“It’s not as easy to coordinate care in a rural area as it would be in a city, where resources are much more readily available,” Dr Rowe said.

“So it would be really important for people who are returning to rural areas to have all the information they need for the best outcomes.”

The study, backed by Cancer Council Queensland, said overseas studies had shown the benefit of dedicated support nurses and telehealth services for rural patients.

“There’s an opportunity here to improve the delivery of this information,” Dr Rowe said. 

“It has potential to have significant impacts on survival rates, and on the long-term wellbeing and recovery of all people in cancer survivorship.”