Atlas lays out Australia’s cancer hot spots

The new Australian Cancer Atlas can help people discover the impact of the disease in their suburb or town.

The interactive atlas shows national patterns in incidence and survival rates based on where people live for 20 of the most common cancers in Australia, likely reflecting the characteristics, lifestyles and access to health services in the area.

The project was led by researchers from Cancer Council Queensland, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and FrontierSI. It will give health agencies and policy makers a better understanding of geographic disparities and health requirements across the country.

Cancer Council Queensland’s Chris McMillan said the charity was proud to launch the Australian Cancer Atlas to help advance cancer control nationally.

“This project builds on years of work by Cancer Council Queensland to better understand the cancer divide between metropolitan and rural areas, and map the gaps linked to socio-economic status and other demographic factors,” Ms McMillan said.

“In 2018, an estimated 138,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer, but we know that some people face greater risks of diagnosis and death than others, due to a mix of lifestyle, behaviour, genetics and other unknown factors.

“The atlas enables readers to easily visualise those differences and offers critical insight into patterns of cancer and outcomes in Australia, depending on where people live, which can be used to drive research and policies.”

Cancer Council Queensland’s Professor Joanne Aitken said the digital atlas highlighted which geographical areas had cancer rates below or above the national average.

“Australians can look at the impact of various types of cancer in the region where they live, to understand cancer patterns across the country,” Prof. Aitken said. “However, it’s important to remember local cancer trends won’t necessarily reflect your own cancer risk.”

“Cancer rates vary across geographic regions depending on factors such as the age of residents, participation in screening programs and cancer risk behaviours.

“Regardless of what is happening in our local area, we should each feel empowered to reduce our cancer risk by not smoking, being SunSmart, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol intake, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and having regular checks.

“One of the most revealing patterns in the atlas was the severe disparities in Australia with liver cancer. Incidence rates were significantly higher than the national average in many areas in northern Australia and metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne, due to differences in the distribution of known risk factors such as hepatitis, intravenous drugs use and excess alcohol consumption.

“Other findings confirmed melanoma incidence rates were higher than the Australian average in many areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales.”

Key cancer facts:

  • Cancer is a leading cause of death in Australia – more than 48,000 deaths from cancer are estimated for 2018.
  • Around 17,500 more people die each year from cancer than 30 years ago, due mainly to population growth and ageing. However, the death rate (number of deaths per 100,000 people) has fallen by more than 24 per cent.
  • 69 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer in Australia are still alive five years later.
  • The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are prostate, breast, colorectal (bowel), melanoma and lung cancer, which account for about 60 per cent of all cancers.
  • Cancer costs more than $4.5 billion in direct health system costs (6.9 per cent) a year.
  • Compared with major cities, people living in very remote areas of Australia are 1.2 times more likely to die from cancer.

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