Cancer is a term used for diseases in which abnormal cells divide without control and can invade nearby tissues. Cancer cells can also spread to other parts of the body through the blood and lymph systems. Cancers can develop from most cell types and are distinguished from one another by the location in the body where the disease began (for example, lung) or by the cell type involved (known as histology).

Cancer is a major cause of illness in Australia and has substantial social and economic impact on individuals, families and communities. For all cancers combined, the incidence rate increased between 1982 and 2008, before decreasing in 2013 and an expected decrease in 2017. The decrease has mainly been observed in males, and is strongly influenced by changes in the incidence rate of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is estimated to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer for males in 2017 and breast cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer for females. However, young people tend to be diagnosed with different types of cancers than older people. Leukaemia, lymphoma and brain cancer are common cancers among people aged 0–24, while colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer (in females) are common in people aged 25 and over.

Between 1982 and 2017, the mortality rate decreased. This may be due to various factors, such as early detection and improvements in treatment. Over the same time period, the five-year relative survival from all cancers combined increased.

The AIHW produces Cancer in Australia every 2 years. The report provides a comprehensive national overview on cancer, including the latest available data and projections, and trends over time. The Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books are produced every year and provide summary statistics, tables and graphs by age, year and sex for major cancers and all cancers combined. Detailed spotlight reports on selected cancers are produced regularly.