1 in 4 Australians at risk of developing cancer before age 75

Approximately 78,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed each year and it is expected that on average one in three men and one in four women will develop cancer before the age of 75, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report, released today in Melbourne at the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia's (COSA) Annual Scientific Meeting.

The report, Cancer in Australia 1996, is based on data collected by the State and Territory Cancer Registries. It reveals that cancers currently account for 28% of deaths in men and 25% in women and are the second major cause of death after circulatory diseases. The report estimates that nearly 261,000 potential years of life are lost as a result of people dying of cancer before 75 years of age which is twice that of circulatory diseases.

Head of the AIHW's Disease Registers Unit, Dr Paul Jelfs, said that lung cancer was a major contributor to premature death in Australia and one which was preventable. 'It is the leading cause of cancer death for Australians', Dr Jelfs said. 'The continued decline in lung cancer incidence rates in men is good news. However, the increases in women are disappointing, and at an individual level, tragic.'

'Australia's melanoma rates are among the highest in the world and continue to climb at the national level, but there are some early indications this trend is turning around.

'This is a timely reminder that people should take care to protect themselves from the sun's damaging UV radiation which puts us at a higher risk of this and other types of skin cancer. We Australians all need to be aware of the slip slop slap message, especially through the summer'.

Cancer in Australia 1996 shows that the most common cancers in men are cancers of the prostate (10,055), bowel (6,067) and lung (5,228). In women the most common cancers are breast cancer (9,621), bowel cancer (4,931) and melanoma (3,448). The risk of cancer increases with age with almost 60% of cancer diagnosed after the age of 65.

Other findings from Cancer in Australia 1996 include:

  • Breast cancer incidence rates in 1997 continued their increase at around 2.2% per year. Some of this increase can be attributed to earlier detection of breast cancers through the breast screening program. One in 12 women are at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer before age 75.
  • Prostate cancer rates continued their fall from a peak in 1994. This fall coincides with a reduction in the use of prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests. Approximately one third of these cancers occur in men over age 75. Death rates remain stable.

24 November 1999

Note: Dr Jelfs will present the report's findings at the COSA Conference at 3.30pm, Wednesday 24 November, in Cooryong 3 Room, Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, Corner of Flinders & Clarendon Streets, Melbourne. All media are invited to attend.


Further information: Dr Paul Jelfs, AIHW, ph. 04 0792 8523 (mobile).
Media contact: Michelle Wells, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1012; or Anne Learmonth, COSA, ph. 03 9635 5191 or 03 9235 8623 (on 24 November 1999).
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.