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Cancer in Australia: an overview 2012 presents the latest available information on incidence, mortality, survival, prevalence, burden of cancer, hospitalisations and national cancer screening programs. It is estimated that the most commonly diagnosed cancers in 2012 will be prostate cancer, bowel cancer and breast cancer. For all cancers combined, the incidence rate increased by 12% from 1991 to 2009, but the mortality rate decreased and survival improved over time. Cancer outcomes differ by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, remoteness area and socioeconomic status.


Cancer is the major cause of illness in Australia

In 2012, it is estimated that more than 120,700 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer, excluding basal and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. More than half (56%) of these cases are expected to be diagnosed in males. The most commonly reported cancers in 2012 are expected to be prostate cancer, followed by bowel cancer, breast cancer, melanoma of the skin and lung cancer.

Between 1991 and 2009, the number of new cancer cases diagnosed almost doubled — from 66,393 to 114,137. This increasing trend is primarily due to the rise in the number of prostate cancer, breast cancer in females, bowel cancer and lung cancer, and is partly explained by the ageing and increasing size of the population.

Mortality rate due to cancer has fallen

In 2010, more than 42,800 Australians died from cancer. Cancer accounted for about 3 in 10 deaths in Australia, making it the second most common cause of death, exceeded only by cardiovascular diseases. For all cancers combined, the age-standardised mortality rate decreased by 17% from 210 per 100,000 in 1991 to 174 per 100,000 in 2010.

Survival improved over time, but not consistent across all cancers

Five-year survival from all cancers combined increased from 47% in 1982-1987 to 66% in 2006-2010. The cancers that had the largest survival gains over this time were prostate cancer, kidney cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Gains in survival have not been consistent across all cancers. Some cancers that already had low survival in 1982-1987 showed only small gains, such as mesothelioma (from 5.5% to 6.2%), brain cancer (from 20% to 22%), pancreatic cancer (from 3% to 5%) and lung cancer (from 9% to 14%).

Australians diagnosed with cancer generally had better survival prospects compared with people living in other countries and regions.

Cancer outcomes differ across population groups

Cancer outcomes differ by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, remoteness area and socioeconomic status. For all cancers combined, Indigenous Australians experienced higher incidence and mortality rates than non-Indigenous Australians. Incidence rates and survival were lower for people living in remote areas compared with those in major cities, while mortality rates rose with increasing remoteness. Incidence and mortality rates rose and survival from all cancers fell as a person's socioeconomic status decreased.


Abbreviations Description
AACR Australasian Association of Cancer Registries
ABCR Australian Blood Cancer Registry
ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics
ACD Australian Cancer Database
ACHI Australian Classification of Health Interventions
ACIM Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality
ACT Australian Capital Territory
AIDS Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome
AIHW Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
ALOS average length of stay
ASGC Australian Standard Geographical Classification
ASR age-standardised rate
CA Cancer Australia
CI confidence interval
COAG Council of Australian Governments
CS crude survival
DALY disability-adjusted life year
DCIS ductal carcinoma in situ
DoHA Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing
FOBT faecal occult blood test
HPV human papilloma virus
IARC International Agency for Research on Cancer
ICD-10 International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision
ICD-10-AM International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision, Australian Modification
ICD-O International Classification of Diseases for Oncology
ICD-O-3 International Classification of Diseases for Oncology, 3rd edition
IRSD Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage
MBS Medicare Benefits Schedule
MIR mortality-to-incidence ratio
NBCSP National Bowel Cancer Screening Program
NCCH National Centre for Classification in Health
NCSP National Cervical Screening Program
NDI National Death Index
NHPA National Health Priority Area
NHMD National Hospital Morbidity Database
NHVP National HPV Vaccination Program
NMD National Mortality Database
NMSC non-melanoma skin cancer
NOCD National Outpatient Care Database
NOS not otherwise specified
No. number
NSW New South Wales
NT Northern Territory
Qld Queensland
Pap Papanicolaou (cervical smear test)
POA postal area
PSA prostate-specific antigen
RS relative survival
SA South Australia
SACC Standard Australian Classification of Countries
SEIFA Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas
SLA Statistical Local Area
Tas Tasmania
Vic Victoria
WA Western Australia
WHO World Health Organization
YLD years lost due to disability
YLL years of life lost (due to premature mortality)


Symbols Description
$ Australian dollars, unless otherwise specified
% per cent
< less than
> greater than
+ and over
.. not applicable
n.a. not available
n.p. not published (data cannot be released due to quality issues)