Cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia

The following information incorporates the most up-to-date data available to describe the incidence, mortality, survival and prevalence of cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. The ICD-10 cancer codes associated with ‘all cancers combined’ and individual cancer sites can be found on their respective pages.

The main data sources for this web page are the 2013 Australian Cancer Database (ACD) and the 2014 National Mortality Database (NMD). The 5-year period of incidence data (2008 to 2012) and mortality data (2010 to 2014) was used due the availabliity of actual data. 

New cases of cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia

Reliable national data on the diagnosis of cancer for Indigenous Australians are not available. All state and territory cancer registries collect information on Indigenous status; however, in some jurisdictions the quality of Indigenous status data is insufficient for analyses. Information in the ACD on Indigenous status is considered to be of sufficient completeness for reporting for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Data for these five jurisdictions were used to examine the incidence of cancer by Indigenous status.

In 2008–2012, there were 5,946 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Indigenous Australians (2,899 males and 3,047 females) in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. During the same period, 454,755 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in non-Indigenous Australians in the same 5 jurisdictions.

In 2008–2012, the age-standardised incidence rate for Indigenous Australians was 484 cases per 100,000 persons (547 for males and 439 for females). The age-standardised incidence rate for non-Indigenous Australians during the same period was 439 cases per 100,000 persons (525 for males and 368 for females).

In 2008–2012, age-specific incidence rate from cancer were higher for Indigenous Australians for age groups 40–44 to 75 years and older. The age-specific incidence rate was higher in non-Indigenous Australians in all other age groups.

In 2008–2012, the risk of an Indigenous Australian being diagnosed with cancer by their 75th birthday was 1 in 3 (1 in 3 for males and 1 in 3 for females). Similarly, the risk of a non-Indigenous Australian being diagnosed with cancer by their 75th birthday was 1 in 3 (1 in 3 for males and 1 in 4 for females).

During 2008–2012, the 10 most commonly diagnosed cancers among Indigenous Australians accounted for approximately 69% of all cancers diagnosed within this population. Seven of the ten most diagnosed cancers were common to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. However, the top 10 cancer incidence rankings for Indigenous Australians differed from those for non-indigenous Australians (Table 1). Cancer types that were ranked higher in the Indigenous population than in the non-Indigenous population include:

  • Lung cancer (ranked 1st compared with 4th)
  • Liver cancer (ranked 6th compared with 17th)
  • Uterine cancer (ranked 8th compared with 14th).

Conversely, the incidence of prostate cancer was ranked higher in non-Indigenous Australians than in Indigenous Australians.

The 10 most commonly diagnosed cancers in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, 2008–2012

Cancer site (ICD-10 code) Indigenous Australians   Non-Indigenous Australians
Number of
new cases
Rank ASR Number of
new cases
Rank ASR
Lung (C33-34) 864 1 81.8   43,343 4 41.4
Breast (C50) 716 2 94.2   57,796 3 109.7
Colorectal (C18-20) 579 3 51.7   59,040 2 56.8
Prostate (C61) 504 4 105.7   79,046 1 156.5
Head and neck
(C00-14,C30-32)
406 5 28.5   14,965 7 14.5
Liver (C22) 208 6 16.9   6,216 17 6.0
Lymphoma (C81-86) 208 7 16.1   20,156 6 19.7
Uterus (C54-55) 206 8 28.4   8,933 14 16.4
Leukaemia (C91-95) 194 9 12.1   12,283 8 12.1
Unknown primary site (C77-C80,C97) 191 10 18.2   9,784 12 9.4

Notes

  1. Breast and Uterine cancer age-standardised rates are expressed per 100,000 females.

  2. Prostate cancer age-standardised rates are expressed per 100,000 males.

Age-specific incidence rates for cancer in Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, 2008–2012

This line chart presents the age-specific incidence rate of all cancers combined for Indigenous (orange) and non-Indigenous (blue) Australians in the years 2008–2012. The age-specific incidence rate is shown on the primary (left) y-axis, with 5-year age groups from ages 0–4 to 75+ shown on the x-axis.

Source: AIHW analysis of the Australian Cancer Database, (see Cancer compendium data source table 7).

Deaths from cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia

Information in the NMD on Indigenous status from 2010 to 2014 is considered to be of sufficient quality for use for five jurisdictions: New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Data for these five jurisdictions are used to examine mortality of cancer by indigenous status.

In 2010–2014, there were 2,558 deaths from cancer among Indigenous Australians (1,324 males and 1,234 females) in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. During the same period, there were 151,635 deaths from cancer among non-Indigenous Australians (86,396 males and 65,239 females).

In 2010–2014, the age-standardised mortality rate among Indigenous Australians was 221 deaths per 100,000 persons (253 for males and 197 for females). During the same period, the age-standardised mortality rate was 171 deaths per 100,000 persons for non-Indigenous Australians (213 for males and 137 for females).

In 2010–2014, age-specific mortality rates from cancer were higher for Indigenous Australians for age groups 35–39 to 70–74. The age-specific mortality rate was generally higher in non-Indigenous Australians in other age groups.

In 2010–2014, the risk of an Indigenous Australian dying from cancer by their 75th birthday was 1 in 7 (1 in 6 for males and 1 in 8 for females). The risk of a non-Indigenous Australian dying from cancer by their 75th birthday was 1 in 10 (1 in 9 for males and 1 in 10 for females).

During 2010–2014, the 10 most common causes of cancer deaths among Indigenous Australians accounted for approximately 74% of all cancers deaths in this population. Lung cancer was the most common cancer death for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Similarly, seven cancer types were in the top 10 mortality rankings for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. However, the order of the cancer mortality rankings differed between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. Cancer types that were ranked higher in the Indigenous population include:

  • Head and neck cancer (ranked 2nd compared with 16th)
  • Liver cancer (ranked 3rd compared with 9th)
  • Oesophageal cancer (ranked 8th compared with 13th)
  • Stomach cancer (ranked 10th compared with 14th).

Conversely, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer were ranked higher among non-Indigenous Australians than in Indigenous Australians.

The 10 most common cancer deaths in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, 2010–2014

Cancer site (ICD-10 code) Indigenous Australians   Non-Indigenous Australians
Number of
deaths
Rank ASR Number of
deaths
Rank ASR
Lung (C33-34) 670 1 57.7   28,769 1 32.2
Head and neck
(C00-14,C30-32)
190 2 13.9   3,587 16 4.0
Liver (C22) 177 3 14.5   5,247 9 5.9
Unknown primary site
(C77-80,C97)
173 4 16.9   9,420 5 10.6
Breast (C50) 154 5 22.2   9,783 4 21.1
Pancreas (C25) 136 6 12.0   8,582 6 9.6
Colorectal (C18-20) 124 7 11.5   13,719 2 15.5
Oesophagus (C15) 109 8 8.3   4,196 13 4.7
Prostate (C61) 83 9 23.2   11,099 3 28.5
Stomach (C16) 77 10 6.7   3,790 14 4.3

Notes

  1. Breast cancer age-standardised rates are expressed per 100,000 females.
  2. Prostate cancer age-standardised rates are expressed per 100,000 males.

Age-specific mortality rates for cancer, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory, 2010–2014

This line chart presents the age-specific mortality rate of all cancers combined for Indigenous (orange) and non-Indigenous (blue) Australians in the years 2010–2014. The age-specific mortality rate is shown on the primary (left) y-axis, with 5-year age groups from ages 0–4 to 75+ shown on the x-axis.

Source: AIHW analysis of the Australian Cancer Database, (see Cancer compendium data source table 8).

Survival from cancer for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people diagnosed with cancer between 2009 and 2013 had a 44% chance of surviving 5 years after a cancer diagnosis. Indigenous Australians had a significantly lower 5-year crude survival than non-Indigenous Australians (44% compared with 58%).

Survivorship population for cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia 

The survivorship population is measured using prevalence data. Prevalence refers to the number of people alive who have previously been diagnosed with cancer.

The prevalence for one, three and five years given below are the number of Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians living with cancer at the end of 2012 who had been diagnosed in the preceding 1, 3, and 5 years respectively.

At the end of 2012, there were 1,020 Indigenous Australians (477 males and 543 females) living in the selected states who had been diagnosed with cancer that year. During the same period, there were 79,580 non-Indigenous Australians (43,889 males and 35,691 females) living in the same selected states who had been diagnosed with cancers that year.

One year age-standardised prevalence was lower among Indigenous Australians (351 per 100,000) than non-Indigenous Australians (361 per 100,000).

At the end of 2012, there were 2,382 Indigenous Australians (1,079 males and 1,303 females) living in the selected states who had been diagnosed with cancer in the previous three years (from 2010 to 2012). During the same period, there were 203,126 non-Indigenous Australians (111,495 males and 91,631 females) living in the same selected states who had been diagnosed with cancer in the previous three years (from 2010 to 2012).

Three year age-standardised prevalence was lower among Indigenous Australians (821 per 100,000) than non-Indigenous Australians (920 per 100,000).

At the end of 2012, there were 3,337 Indigenous Australians (1,485 males and 1,852 females) living in the selected states who had been diagnosed with cancer in the previous five years (from 2008 to 2012). During the same period, 303,771 non-Indigenous Australians (166,798 males and 136,973 females) were living in the same selected states who had been diagnosed with cancer in the previous five years (from 2008 to 2012).

Five year age-standardised prevalence was lower among Indigenous Australians (1,152 per 100,000) than non-Indigenous Australians (1,376 per 100,000).