Ageing population drives rising demand for cancer treatment services

Australia's ageing population is driving a rapid increase in demand for cancer treatment services, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Cancer in Australia 2000 shows that the death rate from cancer has been declining steadily since 1983-adjusted for the effects of Australia's ageing population. However, the ageing population is leading to a rapid increase in new cancer cases. The annual number of new cancer cases diagnosed in Australia rose by 36% between 1990 and 2000, from 62,597 to 85,231 cases.

The rise was much higher than general population growth of 12%-but the over-50s population rose by 29% over the same period.

Report co author Ian McDermid said that the risk of cancer increased with age, to the extent that over five times as many cancers were diagnosed in people over the age of 50 years as in those under 50 years. In 2000, the average age of first diagnosis of a malignant cancer was 65 years.

'The rise in the number of new cases during the 1990s continued to put pressure on treatment services across Australia', Mr McDermid said.

'Between 1997-98 and 2001-02 the number of hospital admissions for cancer patients increased by 5% a year.'

'Cancer was the principal diagnosis for 317,000 admissions in 2001-02, and there were a further 305,000 cancer-related admissions, together accounting for 1 in 10 of all hospital stays.

'The proportion of cancer admissions involving public patients dropped from 52% to 48% between 1997-98 and 2001-02, and the proportion of cases treated in public hospitals fell from 62% to 55%.'

Men in Australia currently have a 1 in 3 risk of developing cancer before the age of 75, with women having a 1 in 4 risk. The risk of death due to cancer before the age of 75 years is 1 in 7 for men and 1 in 11 for women.

The most common cancers causing death for men were lung (4,594 deaths in 2000), prostate (2,665) and colorectal cancer (2,569). For women, they were breast (2,521), lung (2,317) and colorectal cancer (2,149).

The incidence of smoking-related cancers has fallen in recent years, but cigarette smoking is still a major cause of cancer in Australia. Smoking is estimated to have directly caused 10,800 new cases of cancer (about 13% of all new cases of cancer) and 7,650 deaths (22% of all cancer deaths) in 2000.

Colorectal (or bowel) cancer had the second highest number of cancer deaths and is the most common registrable cancer in Australia with 12,405 new cases in 2000. Of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer, it is estimated that around half will be cured. Of those who die from colorectal cancer the average time from diagnosis to death is 2.3 years.

A pilot national screening program for bowel cancer commenced in November 2002 and a profile of colorectal cancer is included in Cancer in Australia 2000.

7 November 2003

Further information: Mr Ian McDermid, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1230
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1032