Sun and smoking major causes of cancer

Cancer remains one of the largest causes of death in Australia, but many cancer cases could be prevented by reductions in sun exposure and tobacco use.

According to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, cancer accounted for 27% of all deaths in Australia in 1999, despite falling cancer death rates.

Males in Australia currently have a 1 in 3 risk of developing cancer before the age of 75 years and females a 1 in 4 risk.

Approximately 82,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Australia each year.

In 2000-01, there were almost 310,000 hospitalisations in Australia for which cancer was the principal diagnosis. This accounted for 1 in 20 hospital stays.

There are also about 2 million general practice visits a year for cancer management. Skin cancers (both melanoma and non-melanocytic skin cancers) account for 46% of these visits, indicating that excessive sun exposure remains a very serious health problem in Australia.

In addition to 8,243 new cases of melanoma, there are also around 270,000 new cases of non-melanocytic skin cancer each year.

Report author Dr Chris Stevenson said that 'the continuing rise in the incidence of melanoma shows that more Australians should heed the warnings about excessive sun exposure.

'On the other hand, the incidence of smoking-related cancers has fallen in recent years, but cigarette smoking is still a major cause of cancer in Australia. It is estimated to have directly caused 10,619 new cases of cancer (12.9% of all new cases of cancer) and 7,554 deaths (21.8% of cancer deaths) in 1999.'

While incidence rates across all cancers rose slightly at an average of 0.3% for men and 0.8% for women, overall cancer mortality rates have been declining at an average of 1.1% per year for men and 1.0% per year for women since 1990.

The most common cancers found in men were prostate cancer (10,232 new cases in 1999), bowel cancer (6,188), lung cancer (5,275) and melanoma (4,627). In women the most common cancers were breast cancer (10,592), bowel cancer (5,449), melanoma (3,616) and lung cancer (2,551).

In 2000-01, current tobacco use and personal history of tobacco use were in the top 10 additional diagnoses for people admitted to hospital for every one of the eight National Health Priority Area cancers (lung, breast, cervix, prostate, bowel, melanoma, non-melanocytic skin cancer, and non-Hodgkins lymphoma).

26 November 2002


Further information: Dr Chris Stevenson, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1041 or 0409 307 671 (mobile)
For additional comment: Prof. Alan Coates, The Cancer Council Australia, tel. 02 9036 3100
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032