Cancer death rates falling, survival up

Cancer death rates are continuing to fall, and relative survival rates in the 1990s were much better than a decade earlier, according to two new reports released today from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

Cancer in Australia 1998 shows that overall cancer mortality rates have been declining at an average of 1.7% per year for men and 1.3% per year for women since 1993.
Cancer Survival in Australia 2001 shows that for men the survival proportion at 5 years after diagnosis increased from 44% to 57% from 1982-86 to 1992-97, while for women the increase was from 55% to 63%.

Approximately 80,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year. About 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women will develop the disease before the age of 75.

Head of the AIHW Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit, John Harding, said that cancer was still the second major cause of death after circulatory diseases, accounting for 29% of deaths in men and 25% in women.

The most common cancers found in men were prostate cancer (9,869 new cases in 1998), bowel cancer (6,131) and lung cancer (5,307). In women the most common cancers were breast cancer (10,665), bowel cancer (5,158) and melanoma (3,493).

The 5-year relative survival rate for prostate cancer was 83%. The 5-year survival rate for breast cancer was 84%.

Cancers with the highest relative survival rates for men were testicular cancer (95%), thyroid cancer (95%), and melanoma (90%). In women the highest survival rates were for thyroid cancer (95%), melanoma (95%) and Hodgkin's lymphoma (84%).

Cancers with the lowest 5-year relative survival rates for males and females were pancreatic cancer (5%), lung cancer (11% and 14% respectively), stomach cancer (23% and 25%), and brain cancer (24%).

Mr Harding said that there was a sharp fall in the number of new cases of melanoma in 1998, contrasting with steady increases during the previous decade.

'The incidence rates for melanoma in Australia are still among the highest in the world, so there will be great interest among public health professionals in seeing whether the fall in skin cancer cases continues,' he said.

'Five-year survival rates after a diagnosis of melanoma, already very high, increased significantly between 1982-86 and 1992-97-by 7 percentage points for men and almost 4 percentage points for women.'

Other findings from the two reports include:

  • Among the limited number of countries for which cancer survival data are available, Australia and the United States of America have the highest 5-year relative survival rates. For people diagnosed during 1992-97, the 5-year relative survival rate for all cancers for females was 63.4% in Australia compared with 62.3% for the USA, and for men 56.8% in Australia compared with 61.2% in the USA.
  • New cases of prostate cancer in 1998 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.
  • Cigarette smoking is estimated to have directly caused 10,506 new cases of cancer (13% of all new cases) and 7,068 deaths (21% of cancer deaths).
  • Age is a strong predictor of survival chances-men and women diagnosed with cancer in their 20s had a better 5-year relative survival rate than any other age group (83% and 87% respectively). Men and women in their 90s had 5-year relative survival rates of 30% and 32% respectively.
  • Both Cancer in Australia 1998 and Cancer Survival in Australia 2001 are based on data collected by the State and Territory Cancer Registries.

22 November 2001


Further information: Mr John Harding, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1140
For media copies of the reports: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1132