Six years ago, Keely Bennett was told she only had two weeks to live. Today, the 42-year-old is one of the 1.1 million Australians with a history of cancer – a figure that is set to rise.
The number of Australians living with or after cancer is expected to increase by 72 per cent in the next 22 years, according to a report released by the Cancer Council Australia on Thursday.
Due to an ageing and growing population, better diagnosis and treatment, numbers will grow from one in 22 Australians with a history of cancer, to one in 18 in 2040 – to almost 1.9 million people.
Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Sanchia Aranda said this data highlighted the importance of providing services to support this growing population, as living with cancer becomes normalised.
"One of the reasons this data is important is because of what special services are needed for them – they need to get health and life insurance, help applying for jobs. [They're] an increasingly normal subset of society," Professor Aranda said.
The research showed that currently women are more likely to have a history of cancer than men, at 51 per cent versus 49 per cent. This is set to change by 2040, with fewer women than men at 47 per cent and 53 per cent respectively.
Mrs Bennett, diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer, said it has had a "huge impact" not just on herself, but her family.
"For the patient it's a physical, emotional and financial burden," she said.
"For example, when I was first diagnosed I wanted to meet someone like me – other young women with breast cancer."
Services through the Cancer Council, such as regular meetings with patients her own age, help with life and health insurance, as well as assistance with smaller things including hospital parking fees, have been beneficial to Mrs Bennett and her family.
"Yes, I'll be in treatment for the rest of my life," she said. "But it'll be a good quality of life."
Professor Aranda sees a growing trend of post-cancer survivors. "Cancer survival rates are going up," she said.
By 2040, 58 per cent of those been diagnosed with cancer will be 70 years or older.
"The good thing about survival is that it damages the stigma around common attitudes when diagnosed. For example, the rise of the consumer movement in breast cancer means increased awareness and screening participation amongst women."
Professor Aranda also underlines the fact that the poorest have lower survival rates.
"This reinforces the need to pay greater attention to cancer in harder to reach populations."
Cancers that are easier to diagnose, or have national screening programs, such as melanoma, and prostate, breast and bowel cancers, were seen by Cancer Council to contribute most to the increase in numbers, whereas cancers such as pancreatic cancer are still harder to identify.
As someone who wasn't diagnosed until the cancer was at stage four, Mrs Bennett emphasises the importance of getting diagnosed early.
"Don't be scared," she said. "You're not alone. There's a big community out there who are willing to share help and tips."