23 Years closer to a cancer free future

Research has brought us a long way in the last 23 years. We've collated just some of the many milestones and achievements in cancer research and control since the first POSH Gala Ball in 2000.


The five-year survival rate for all cancers combined was 56.8%for men 63.4%for women

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  • The first targeted anti-breast cancer drug was made available for the treatment of late-stage breast cancer through a special program funded by the Australian Government. In 2006, it was made available for the treatment of patients with HER-2 positive early stage breast cancer.
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  • Scientists announced they mapped the human genome (DNA), allowing researchers to identify the genetic defects that power cancer.
  • The first targeted drug for lung cancer was approved for use in Australia after research showed it delays the time before a patient’s cancer progresses.


  • The National Bowel Cancer Screening Program was introduced in Australia.
  • Cancer Council NSW initiated the Aboriginal Patterns of Cancer Care Project, to explore why the death rate for Aboriginal Australians is more than three times higher than non-Aboriginal Australians.


  • Australia became the first country in the world to roll out a free National HPV Vaccination Program.
  • Cancer Council NSW research led by A/Prof David Smith revealed more than half of all men with prostate cancer reported some levels of unmet supportive care needs – most commonly psychological needs and issues with changes in sexual function.


  • Cancer Council NSW became a major funding partner of the 45 and Up Study – the largest ongoing study of healthy aging in the Southern Hemisphere.


  • With funding from Cancer Council NSW, Prof Anna deFazio and her team identified two distinct mechanisms that lead to treatment failure in the most common type of ovarian cancer. Prof deFazio has taken these findings, and those from two further Cancer Council NSW grants, to clinical practice through a new translational research program.
  • Cancer Council NSW research showed us that about three in every four men treated for early stage prostate cancer experienced problems with sexual function. Lower proportions of men expressed problems with urinary and bowel function and the levels differed by treatment type.


  • Cancer Council NSW committed $2.5 million to the International Cancer Genome Consortium, studying genetic changes associated with 50 different types of cancer. In a landmark effort, Australian researchers mapped the genome of pancreatic cancer. This work revealed valuable information about the extreme complexity of how pancreatic cancer develops, which is proving to be unique for each patient from a genetic standpoint.


  • Australia became the first country in the world to introduce cigarette plain packaging legislation. Cigarette sales are the lowest on record.


  • Prof Minoti Apte and her team discovered that the tissue surrounding pancreatic cancers actively helps the tumour grow and spread. In 2013, Prof Apte received her second of three Cancer Council NSW grants to progress this work, leading to the team identifying a potential new treatment approach in 2017.


  • 61,000
    estimated Australian lives saved thanks to research into cancer prevention, screening and treatment identified by our 20-year report.
  • A major collaborative project initiated by Cancer Council NSW revealed that many Aboriginal people experience social exclusion when navigating through the health care system. The main barriers identified were social and economic disadvantage, fear and mistrust of the health care system and a general lack of knowledge and understanding of cancer and its treatment.


  • With funding from Cancer Council NSW, Prof Murray Norris and his team created the ‘Minimal Residual Disease’ model, a tool that can detect traces of residual cancer cells in children suffering with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). The test, with appropriate follow-up treatment, has halved the relapse rate in high risk children. It is now “standard of care” for children diagnosed with ALL – nationally and internationally.


  • Prof Roger Reddel and Prof Phil Robinson launched the world-first ProCan initiative. This will see their team analyse tens of thousands of examples of all types of cancer from all over the world to develop a library of information to advance scientific discovery and enhance clinical treatment worldwide. Cancer Council NSW supported ProCan through the award of the inaugural Infrastructure Grant in 2018.
  • The first immunotherapy for lung cancer was approved for use in Australia after research showed it extends survival and causes fewer side effects than chemotherapy.


  • Underpinned by Cancer Council NSW research, the new National Cervical Screening Program was introduced, transitioning from two-yearly Pap tests to five-yearly HPV screening tests.
  • Our research found that bowel cancer screening could save 83,800 more lives by 2040, if just 20% more eligible people participated.


  • Professor Karen Canfell and her team at Cancer Council NSW worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and published a paper on achieving global elimination of cervical cancer.


  • Cancer Council NSW research shows 100,000 lung cancer deaths could be avoided this century if smoking rates are reduced to 10% by 2025.
  • Today, the five-year survival rate for all cancers combined in Australia is: 68.1%for men 69.9%for women For our two most common cancers, breast and prostate, the five-year survival rate is over 90%.