Bowel cancer patients wait longer than breast and lung cancer patients for surgery, a report shows.

Bowel cancer patients face longer waits for surgery than those with breast or lung cancer, putting at risk their chance of a cure, new data reveals.

Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane and the Royal Hobart Hospital were identified as having the longest wait times for bowel cancer surgery in the country in the latest National Health Performance Authority report, released on Thursday.

These two hospitals took between 76 and 90 days to complete at least 90 per cent of surgeries for bowel cancer.

Other hospitals with long wait times were Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred and Royal Perth, which took 46 to 60 days to complete at least 90 per cent of bowel cancer surgeries.

The report tracks surgery waiting times at public hospitals for three of the most common cancers for which surgery is a key component of treatment – malignant bowel, breast and lung cancer.

Using figures for the 2012-13 year, the report lists the number of days between a patient’s placement on a waiting list at one of Australia’s public hospitals and the day they are admitted for surgery.

Urgent cases are expected to be completed within 30 days, while semi-urgent cases are meant to be completed within 45 days.

It found 96 per cent of breast cancer patients and 90 per cent of lung cancer patients received their surgery within 30 days.

For bowel cancer patients, 88 per cent received their surgery within 30 days.

Bowel Cancer Australia chief executive Julien Wiggins said the fact that the majority of bowel cancer patients were receiving their surgery within a month was good news.

“Unfortunately, the data also shows that 216 bowel cancer patients did not receive timely surgery,” he said.

“They remained on the public hospital waiting lists for longer than 45 days.”

Bowel cancer patients have a five year survival rate of 66 per cent, compared to 89 per cent for breast cancer patients.

About 15,000 Australians are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year and about 4000 patients will die from the disease.

Mr Wiggins said time on the hospital waiting list is just one component of cancer care.

“We need to find improvements at every stage of the cancer journey from earlier diagnosis, to timely surgery, more treatment options and better supportive care,” he said.

Overall, 92 per cent of cancer patients were treated within 30 days and almost all – 97 per cent – had their operations within 45 days.

AMA vice-president, Dr Stephen Parnis, says it’s good to see that cancer patients continue to be prioritised as requiring urgent elective surgery.

“But it’s important to acknowledge that there are non-cancer elective cases that are also life threatening that also require prioritisation and resources.

“That’s not in any way undermining the need for cancer support services but we have to remember that there’s more than cancer that threatens the lives of Australians.”


* 1028 patients across the nation waited longer than 30 days for their surgeries; 346 of these patients waited longer than 45 days

* Breast cancer patients were least prone to extended waits for surgery

* Bowel cancer patients were more prone at some hospitals to lengthier waits for surgery

(Source: National Health Performance Authority)