A brief overview of the definition and prevalence of cancer, with links to additional information about cancer statistics, control, programs and publications.

Page last updated: 06 June 2011

For information on specific cancers please go to Cancer Australia. Cancer Australia is a national government agency working to improve outcomes for people affected by cancer by ensuring that national cancer control, prevention, treatment and care are evidence-based.

Cancer is a complex set of diseases with many different possible tumour sites. It currently places the largest and a growing burden on patients, families and the health system in Australia. Over 100,000 new registrable cancer cases are diagnosed every year. There are also over 400,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia each year.

Cancer is potentially one of the most preventable and treatable of all diseases. Almost one-third of all cancers may be avoidable, with more than a quarter attributable to just three risk factors: smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity. Other risk factors are poor diet, insufficient physical activity, infectious diseases and exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The risk of many cancers can be modified by individual lifestyle changes.

Due to the high burden cancer poses on the Australian community, it was announced as a National Health Priority Area (NHPA) in 1996, with the focus on the eight priority cancers below:

  • lung cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • melanoma
  • non-melanocytic skin cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • breast cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
The government also maintains a focus on the burden of disease caused by all cancers.

Facts and figures

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