Cancer risk for 1 in 3 Australians

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.

The report, Cancer in Australia 1997, is based on data collected by the State and Territory Cancer Registries.

Approximately 80,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year, but overall cancer mortality rates have been declining at an average of 1.3% per year for men and 0.6% per year for women in recent years.

Report author Robert Van der Hoek said that nevertheless cancer is still the second major cause of death after circulatory diseases, accounting for 28% of deaths in men and 24% in women.

'Also, we estimate that the potential years of life lost through dying of cancer before the age of 75 is twice that of circulatory diseases.'

AIHW Medical Adviser Dr Paul Magnus warned that incidence rates in Australia for melanoma (skin cancer) are continuing to rise and are among the highest in the world.

'Most of this increase is in the older age groups, but everyone needs to take more notice of the SunSmart message.'

'Based on the latest information we have, on average 1 in 23 men and 1 in 33 women will be diagnosed with a melanoma before the age of 75.'

'On the good news side, it is pleasing to see that lung cancer incidence and deaths in men are falling by about 2% per year, mainly due to decreased tobacco smoking. Unfortunately, women's lung cancer rates overall have been increasing, but our evidence suggests that rates among younger women have remained stable or fallen.'

Cancer in Australia 1997 shows that the most common cancers in men are cancers of the prostate (9,725 new cases in 1997), bowel (6,139) and lung (5,332).

In women the most common cancers are breast cancer (10,096), bowel cancer (5,106) and melanoma (3,717).

The risk of cancer increases with age, with 60% of cancers diagnosed after the age of 65.

Other findings from Cancer in Australia 1997 include:

  • Prostate cancer rates continued their fall from a peak in 1994. This coincides with a reduction in the use of prostate specific antigen (PSA) tests. One-third of these cancers occur in men over 75. Death rates remain stable.
  • Breast cancer incidence rates continued their increase at around 2% per year, but death rates declined slightly.
  • Cigarette smoking is estimated to have directly caused 10,391 new cases of cancer (13% of all new cases) and 6,909 deaths (20% of cancer deaths).
  • Cervical cancer incidence and death rates continue to fall rapidly, at around 5% a year. This is partly due to the success of the National Cervical Screening Program.

24 November 2000


Further information: Robert Van der Hoek, tel. 02 6244 1133
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.