In May, I was delighted to find myself leaving Perth, Scotland, to spend a couple of week in Perth, Western Australia (WA). Like many others, I found myself making comparisons between the two locations, although unlike others, my focus was cancer prevention activities. My time in WA was carefully scheduled by the Cancer Council WA, an organisation that “works within the community to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer,” with a strong and visible stream of work on cancer prevention as well as mainstream activities around early detection measures, supporting cancer patients and education for health professionals. In WA, around 180 cancer council staff provide a service for a population of 2.5 million people, of which about 45 focus on prevention and early detection. Hard to see a comparison with any one Scottish cancer charity in numbers alone, and none with any paid staff time working on prevention.

Prepared to talk
Isn’t it great to be caught in mid speech?

From my lecture and media schedule, it was clear that Cancer Council do serious business on promoting prevention. Nine talks in seven days, three radio interviews and one live online chat is more than I have seen on the topic in Scotland in 5 years. Amazing audience sizes for public lectures, primary care and other community workers with video links to the remote and rural. Even the medical students billeted in Kargoorlie came along to hear about what they don’t get taught in the undergrad curriculum.

Live chat featured in the local newspaper

Some activities have a similar dimension to Scottish approaches but with a unique Australian take. For example, our Detect Cancer Early (DCE) programme has used separate social media campaigns for each cancer site, whereas a more economical approach (maybe that Scottish heritage coming through) is found in OZ, in the Find Cancer Early campaign. No beating around the bush here, nine key questions quickly get the symptoms over – blood in the poo, problems with pee and so on are clearly displayed in big bold cards that remind readers about the importance of early detection.


Like Scotland, it was great to see tobacco control work clearly displayed – even the tourist offices were generating a sense of pride in clean environments (by providing the “YUK” factor postcard) as citizens work together to MAKE SMOKING HISTORY. There is however one very major difference, which was the absence of shops selling electronic cigarettes and accompanying gadgets. These are not available for sale in Australia, though if licensing (for use in quitting) comes then things may change. It is clear which side of the debate Australia sits on, and I was reminded on more than one occasion about the recent meta-analysis showing that smokers who use e-cigs are less likely to quit smoking.

“YUK” postcard
Please excuse my thumb!

Another major early of work is UV protection. Skin cancer in WA versus skin cancer in Scotland. Cancer Council have a range of activities – they brand (and sell) the sun cream, they offer the hats and they even do loud speaker beach prompts to remind the bronzing bodies that it might be time to reapply protective lotion.

Cancer Council Branded Suncream
Cancer Council Branded Suncream

Information on the UV index is widely available (and on display) throughout the day, and that was in Winter – a bit like our Scottish Summers with average June temperatures of 19°C. To find out more, I also acquired the excellent text edited by WA Cancer Council Director of Education Terry Slevin (Sun, Skin and Health) and I hope some of the Scottish government cancer team might like to borrow it!


Lots more tales to tell…watch out for part 2 on food, drink and rock an’ roll!

– Annie

Professor Annie S Anderson BSc PhD RD FRCP (Edin)