New look for AIHW cancer stats

Cancer has a greater overall impact on the health of Australians than any other disease group.

On average, 1 in 2 Australians will develop cancer and 1 in 5 will die from it before the age of 85 years. Cancer is also estimated to be the leading cause of burden of disease and injury in Australia in 2010, accounting for approximately one-fifth of the total burden.

In 2007, there were nearly 40,000 deaths due to cancer—that’s 109 deaths every day.

Cancer in Australia 2010: an overview

The AIHW’s Cancer and Screening Unit updates national statistics on cancer incidence and mortality every two years through the Cancer in Australia series of reports.

This year the report has had a makeover, with fresher, brighter colours and a greater focus on presenting the information in more attractive and interesting formats that are easier to follow and understand.

And, for the first time, the main report, entitled Cancer in Australia 2010: an overview this year, has been released with a companion summary document, Cancer in Australia 2010: in brief (see separate section below).

Cancer and Screening Unit Head Christine Sturrock says, ‘Previously the Cancer in Australia report was mostly tables with minimal commentary; now we provide more commentary and importantly, more context. We still have graphs and tables, but the more detailed data are available separately on our website’.

‘We’ve tried to anticipate what people would most want to know, such as known risk factors for cancer, chances of getting cancer, differences across regions and population groups, and survival rates.’

Another new feature is a 36-page summary section for the 36 main types of cancer in Australia. Each page has tables, graphs and other information on incidence, mortality, trends and projections for that particular cancer.

‘Each page is like a one stop shop for information on each main type of cancer’, Ms Sturrock says.

Cancer in Australia 2010: in brief

Cancer in Australia 2010: in brief is set out in much the same way as the Australia’s Health 2010: in brief publication’, Ms Sturrock says.

‘The basic format is a set of “big picture” questions, with “big picture” statistics, graphs and commentary to answer those questions.’

'We decided to produce this 'mini' version because we want to ensure more people are able to access information on cancer statistics quickly and easily.'

‘We thought it was a good opportunity to produce our main findings in a format that would appeal to non-statistically minded people.’

What is cancer?

Cancer is a diverse group of diseases in which some of the body’s cells become abnormal, grow in an uncontrolled way and form a mass called a neoplasm or tumour. They can invade and damage the tissue around them, and can also spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. If the spread of these tumours is not controlled, they can result in death. Not all tumours are invasive; some are benign tumours that do not spread to other parts of the body and are rarely life-threatening.

Why is the most recent national cancer data 3 years old?

Data relating to diagnosed cancers for individuals are collated by state and territory cancer registries. These data are supplied annually for national collation through the National Cancer Statistics Clearing House (NCSCH).

The compilation of state and territory data into the Australian Cancer Database (ACD) involves a variety of checks to identify potential errors. As it is possible for a cancer diagnosis to be recorded by more than one cancer registry, the ACD must be checked for consistency and identify and exclude up to several hundred interstate and intrastate duplicate records before the production of national statistics can commence.

What does Cancer in Australia 2010 report show?

‘We’ve been doing the Cancer in Australia reports for a long time now, and we always find that the number of cases has gone up while mortality has come down’, Ms Sturrock said.

In 2007, over 108,000 new cancer cases were diagnosed (excluding most non-melanoma skin cancers). In 2006, around 105,000 new cases were diagnosed.

The overall cancer death rate in Australia fell by 16% between 1982 and 2007, however the number of new cancer cases doubled in this period.

Age and cancer

Cancer is more common in older Australians, with 68% of cancers diagnosed in people aged 60 years and over. By the age of 85 years, 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will have been diagnosed with cancer at some stage in their lives.

Although cancer deaths occur in people of every age, most cancer deaths are recorded in the oldest age groups. More precisely, 84% of all cancer deaths in males and 81% of all cancer deaths in females occurred in people over the age of 60 years in 2007. The average age at death due to cancer was 72 years for both males and females.

Indigenous Australians and cancer

The incidence rate for cancers on average is lower in Indigenous Australians; however mortality rates are higher.

Compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts, Indigenous Australians were more likely to die from cervical cancer, lung cancer and cancer of an unknown primary site. Non-Indigenous Australians were more likely to die from skin cancer and had a higher incidence rate for all cancers combined, however their mortality rate was lower than that of Indigenous Australians.

How does Australia compare?

The estimated number of new cases of cancer around the world in 2008 was about 12.7 million.

The estimated age-standardised incidence rate for Australia was 314 new cases per 100,000 people. While this rate was about the same as for New Zealand (309 cases per 100,000 people), it was significantly higher than the rates estimated for all other regions in the world. This is probably a consequence of the high rate of skin cancer in Australia.

Further information

Primary contact

Christine Sturrock
Cancer and Screening Unit
Phone: 02 6244 11185

National Cancer Screening programs

In Australia, there are organised national population screening programs for breast, cervical and bowel cancers. They aim to reduce illness and death from these cancers through early detection of cancer and pre-cancerous abnormalities and effective follow-up treatment. These programs are: BreastScreen Australia, the National Cervical Screening Program and the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program. They provide screening services that are free to people in specific target populations (for breast and bowel screening), or are covered by a Medicare rebate (for cervical screening).

Breast Screen Australia

Over 1.6 million women had a screening mammogram through BreastScreen Australia in the 2-year period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2008. Almost 80% of these women were from the target age group (women aged 50 to 69 years), while 55% of women aged 50 to 59 years participated in the program.

The overall number of women aged 50 to 69 years with invasive breast cancers detected through BreastScreen Australia increased from 1,769 in 1996 to 3,392 in 2008.

Mortality rates from breast cancer decreased from 66 deaths per 100,000 women in 1995 to 47 deaths per 100,000 women in 2007. The decrease in mortality from breast cancer in women aged 50–69 years has been attributed to the early detection of invasive breast cancer through BreastScreen Australia, along with advances in the management and treatment of invasive breast cancer.

National Cervical Screening Program

More than 3.6 million women participated in the National Cervical Screening Program in the 2-year period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2008. Of these women, 99% were in the target age group of 20 to 69 years. The participation rate for women aged 20 to 69 years was 61%.

Overall, the cervical cancer incidence rate of women aged 20 to 69 years decreased by about 50% between 1991 (the year the National Cervical Screening Program was introduced) and 2006.

National Bowel Cancer Screening Program

In 2008, almost 280,000 people participated in the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, which was 40% of all people invited.

Of those people invited to participate in the program in 2008 who had a positive Faecal Occult Blood Test result, 76% were recorded as having undergone a colonoscopy by 31 January 2010.

Of the people who had a colonoscopy recorded on the register, 3.9% were found to have suspected or confirmed cancer.