Cancer outcomes for Indigenous Australians: the gap is growing

Cancer care

By Michael Woodhead

20 Mar 2018

Indigenous Australians are more likely to be diagnosed with and die from, cancers than non-Indigenous Australians, new figures from the Australian Institute of health and Welfare show.

A new report shows that indigenous Australians are 10% more likely to be diagnosed with cancer but 40% more likely to die from cancer than non-Indigenous Australians.

Mortality rates for Indigenous (blue) and non-Indigenous Australians (green)

Lung cancer was the leading cause of cancer in Indigenous Australians (in contrast to prostate cancer in non-Indigenous Australians), and there was also a higher proportion of head and neck cancers among Indigenous Australians.

Indigenous Australians had lower participation rates for cancers screening programs such as mammography breast screening and bowel cancer screening, and also had difficulties accessing cancer treatments compared to non-Indigenous Australians, the report found.

And in contrast to the continuing reductions in cancer mortality among non-Indigenous Australians, mortality rates for cancers were worsening for Indigenous Australians (see graph).

“Indigenous Australians diagnosed with cancer had a 50% chance, on average, of surviving five years compared to their counterparts in the Indigenous population,” the report noted

The leading causes of cancer death for Indigenous Australians were lung, liver and head and neck cancers.

The report authors said new standards of care to address the specific health needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were released by National Safety and Quality Health Service in November 2017.

“It is hoped that these changes will lead to improved health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by promoting and supporting participation and engagement in their care,” they concluded.


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