Cancer survival lower in bush and poorer areas, says report

Australians living in the bush have lower overall cancer survival rates than people living in metropolitan areas and rural cities, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Similarly, people living in areas of low socioeconomic status have poorer average survival, following cancer diagnosis, than people living in areas of high socioeconomic status.

Cancer Survival in Australia 1992-1997: geographic categories and socioeconomic status shows that men living outside metropolitan areas and outside large rural centres had relative cancer survival rates of 50 to 55% for all cancers at five years after diagnosis. This was significantly below the 57% experienced by males in capital cities, other metropolitan areas and large rural centres.

Women living outside metropolitan areas and outside large rural centres had five-year relative survival rates of 53 to 56% in remote areas, and 59 to 60% in rural areas. This compares with a figure of 60% for metropolitan areas and large rural centres.

Report co-author Dr Chris Stevenson said some of this different may be explained by cancers in city areas being detected earlier so that survival appears longer.

'However, there are still real differences in cancer survival between the city and the country. Some possible reasons include poorer access to primary medical care and cancer treatment services, the poorer survival and relatively higher populations of Indigenous Australians in rural and remote areas, and socioeconomic status factors.

'On this last point, most areas in rural and remote Australia are classified by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as lower socioeconomic status.'

'But the popular wisdom that "wealthy people are healthy people, and poor people have poor health" holds true in terms of cancer survival.'

'Australians living in the highest socioeconomic areas are predominantly in cities, have above average levels of education and income, and have good access to health services. All these factors point to earlier detection and treatment of cancer, and therefore improved prospects of survival,' Dr Stevenson said.

'And our report shows that men in the highest socioeconomic group had a 61% chance of cancer survival after five years compared with a 53% chance if you were a man in the lowest socioeconomic group. The corresponding figures for women were 62% and 59%.'

Other findings in the report include:

  • Men living in metropolitan areas had much higher five-year survival rates for prostate cancer (83% and 82% respectively) than their counterparts living in other rural and remote areas (75% and 72% respectively).
  • For women diagnosed with breast cancer and colorectal cancer, those living in high socioeconomic status areas had significantly higher relative survival than those living in low socioeconomic status areas.

30 April 2003


Further information: Dr Chris Stevenson, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1041

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032