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Cancer death rates in Australia are low compared to other developed countries, but cancer incidence rates are relatively high, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Cancer in Australia 2001 shows that, excluding skin cancers, the Australian incidence rate for cancer was 18% higher than the average for 'more developed' countries for males, and 28% higher for females, in 2000. The rates, while the same as in the USA, were lower than in New Zealand, but up to 10% higher than in Canada and much higher than in the United Kingdom-36% higher for males and 19% higher for females.

Particular cancers that showed a high incidence compared to other countries were colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and melanoma says AIHW report author Ian McDermid.

'Associated with greater sun exposure, Australia and New Zealand have the highest incidence and mortality arising from melanoma in the world, and non-melanoma skin cancers accounted for 374,000 new cases of cancer in 2002. Skin cancers are by far the most common cancers managed by GPs as a result.'

On a more positive note, Australia's cancer mortality rate is low when compared to the number of cases diagnosed, with Australia having lower death rates than the USA, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, says Mr McDermid.

'This suggests that although we have more cancers, the health system seems to be performing relatively well in early diagnosis and treatment. We have also seen an increase in the amount of money spent on cancer research, with $215m spent in 2000-01 - 18% of all health research expenditure in Australia.'

The annual number of new cancer cases diagnosed (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) in Australia rose by 34% between 1991 and 2001, from 65,966 to 88,398 cases, while the number of deaths increased by 17% from 30,928 in 1991 to 36,319 in 2001.

In males, prostate cancer was the most common registrable cancer (11,191 new cases diagnosed in 2001), followed by colorectal cancer, lung cancer and melanoma.

In females, breast cancer was the most common (11,791), followed by colorectal cancer, melanoma and lung cancer.

Taking this into account, the risk of developing cancer by age 75 is 1 in 3 for men and 1 in 4 for women and sets the median age for first diagnosis of cancer at 69 years of age for men and 65 for women.

The report also profiles mesothelioma, a subject of national interest as an asbestos-related disease, says Mr McDermid.

'The report found that the numbers of new cases of mesothelioma per year increased from around 150 per year in the early 1980s to 567 in 2001, with the median age of diagnosis for men being 70 years and the median age of death also 70 years, indicating a high fatality and relatively short survival after diagnosis.'

15 December 2004


Further information: Ian McDermid, AIHW tel. 02 6244 1230 or 0407 915 851.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications Catalogue for availability of Cancer in Australia 2001, December 2004.