Cancer care

Australia’s cancer survival rates improve, but disease burden still great

Australia’s cancer survival rates have improved substantially in recent years but cancer remains a leading cause of death, the latest national report card on health outcomes shows.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2022 figures released on 7 July show that lung cancer is the third and fourth most common causes of death for Australian males and females respectively, and the most common cause of death in the 65-74 age group.

Prostate cancer is the fifth most common cause of death for males while breast cancer is the fifth most common cause of death for females.

The most common causes of death were coronary heart disease and dementia.

Overall, five-year cancer survival rates are increasing, the report shows, rising from 52% in 1989-1993 to 70% in 2014-2017.

However, survival rates varied considerably between cancer types, with some such as testicular, thyroid and prostate cancer having five-year survival rates over 95% while others such as pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma having five-year survival rates of less than 20%.

Most cancer showed considerable improvement in five year survival rates over the last two decades, although for some such as bladder cancer there was little change [see table].

The report attributed the improvement in survival to earlier diagnosis from screening programs, better cancer treatments and reduction in risk factors such as smoking.

Cancers were also among the five diseases that caused the most burden (lost years of healthy life), with lung cancer being the fifth, representing 3.2% of the overall burden of disease.

According to the report, the absolute numbers of cancers have risen over the last 30 years due to population growth and an ageing population. However, age standardised rates have fallen over the last three decades from 210 to 145/100,000.

In 2022 there were about 162,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Australia. Prostate cancer was the most commonly diagnosed cancer in males (24,217 cases) while breast cancer was the most common in females (20,428 cases).

In addition to cancer deaths, cancers were also among the leading causes of disease burden and health service use in Australia, the report showed.

The most recent figures for 2019-2020 showed there were around 1.3 million cancer-related hospitalisations a year accounting for about one in nine of all hospitalisations in Australia. Of these, 74% were same-day hospitalisations, typically for chemotherapy treatments.

The 26% of cancer admissions that were overnight hospitalisations had an average length of stay of 7.5 days.

Cancers also resulted in high rates of non-hospital specialist attendances, with medical oncology having an average of four services per patient annually.

Cancer and other neoplasms represented the third greatest disease in terms of health system expenditure, accounting for 8.8% ($11.7 billion) of the $134 billion disease-specific expenditure.

Among all disease categories, the average annual cost of health services in the last year of life was highest among people who died from colorectal cancer ($40,700 per person), followed by breast cancer ($35,500 per person), and prostate cancer ($34,500 per person).

Australian cancer survival rates 2014-18 vs 1989-93

Cancer 2014-18 1989-93
Melanoma 93.1% 89.5%
Prostate 95.5% 63.0%
Breast 91.8% 77.3%
Uterine 83.3% 77.7%
Kidney 80.7% 53.2%
Cervical 74.2% 71.9%
Gynaecologic cancers 70.8% 63.5%
Colorectal 70.6% 53.6%
Rectal 70.5% 53.0%
Head and neck cancer 66.5% 51.5%
Bladder 55.8% 64.9%
Neuroendocrine tumours 50.5% 21.9%
Ovarian 47.6% 38.6%
Brain 22.8% 20.0%
Liver 22.0% 6.8%
Lung 21.6% 9.9%
Pancreatic 12.2% 3.3%
Mesothelioma 6.8% 5.6%

Source: AIHW


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