Delivering Better Cancer Care

Cancer affects hundreds of thousands of Australian families at any given time: 100,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed, and around 40,000 people die from various forms of this disease every year.

Page last updated: 07 April 2010

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Cancer affects hundreds of thousands of Australian families at any given time: 100,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed, and around 40,000 people die from various forms of this disease every year.

The cancer burden is particularly great for cancer patients living in rural areas, who are up to three times more likely to die from some cancers than people living in metropolitan areas within five years of being diagnosed.

The Australian Government is strongly committed to preventing cancer where possible and strengthening care for cancer patients where it is not. To date, the Government has committed $2.3 billion in infrastructure, medicines, screening and research to build a world class cancer care system in Australia.

This includes a $560 million commitment to improve access to cancer care services in regional areas of Australia – to help close the gap in outcomes for rural cancer patients.

Cancer in Australia

Cancer remains the leading cause of premature death in Australia. Although survival rates have improved dramatically for many cancers in the past 20 years, with more than 60% of all cancer patients alive five years after their diagnosis, cancer is still placing an intolerable burden on our community.

The risk for a male being diagnosed with cancer before age 75 is 1 in 3, and before age 85 is 1 in 2. The risk for a female being diagnosed with cancer before age 75 is 1 in 4, and before age 85 is 1 in 31.

In 2006, there were over 39,000 deaths from cancer, and over 100,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed in Australia2.

The cancer burden is particularly great for people living in rural areas: because of poor health infrastructure and poor access to health care providers, for some cancers, rural residents are up to three times more likely to die than their urban counterparts within five years of diagnosis. Substantial improvements to our cancer care system are needed to close the gap in outcomes for cancer patients living in rural areas.

While cancer outcomes in Australia overall are among the best in the world, we know that the number of new cancer cases is expected to increase by more than 30% in the next ten years as the population ages. We need to act now to prepare our cancer care services to meet this challenge, and ensure Australia provides world’s best cancer care to Australian cancer patients into the future.

Figure 1 - Burden of Major Disease Groups 2003 - Years of Lost Life (YLL) and Years Lost to Disability (YLD)

Disease group

YLL ('000)

YLD ('000)

DALYs ('000)

Cancers
412.0
87.5
499.4
Cardiovascular diseases
369.4
104.4
473.8
Mental disorders
23.2
327.4
350.5
Neurological and sense disorders
54.1
258.6
312.8
Chronic respiratory diseases
71.3
115.4
186.7
Injuries (a)
140.6
44.4
185.1
Diabetes
32.3
111.5
143.8
Musculoskeletal diseases
7.0
98.5
105.5
Genitourinary diseases
24.1
41.2
65.2
Digestive disorders
27.7
30.2
58.0
Infectious & parasitic diseases (b)
30.7
14.0
44.7
Congenital anomalies
19.0
15.6
34.6
Neonatal conditions
16.9
16.3
33.2
Other (c)
26.8
77.2
103.9

(a) Includes intentional and unintentional injuries.
(b) Excludes acute respiratory infections.
(c) Includes maternal conditions, nutritional deficiencies, non-malignant neoplasms, skin diseases, oral health conditions, acute respiratory infections and ill-defined conditions.

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Health 2008

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A complex but potentially preventable disease

Cancer is a complex set of diseases with many different possible tumour sites. Cancer usually presents as a solid growth or tumour, which may spread from the primary site to involve distant organs. A minority of cancers result from the inheritance of a damaged gene. Most deaths from cancer result from the disease spreading to vital organs like the lungs, liver and brain.


Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australia’s Health 2008


A complex but potentially preventable disease

Cancer is a complex set of diseases with many different possible tumour sites. Cancer usually presents as a solid growth or tumour, which may spread from the primary site to involve distant organs. A minority of cancers result from the inheritance of a damaged gene. Most deaths from cancer result from the disease spreading to vital organs like the lungs, liver and brain.

Cancer is potentially one of the most preventable and treatable of all diseases – around one third of cancer is preventable. Tobacco consumption is the largest preventable cause of cancer. Other risk factors are poor diet; insufficient physical activity; being overweight or obese; unsafe alcohol use; infectious diseases and exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In 2005, over 11% of new cancer cases and nearly 21% of cancer deaths could be attributed to smoking and 3% of new cancer cases and 3.5% of cancer deaths attributed to excessive alcohol consumption3. The risk of many cancers can therefore be modified by lifestyle changes.

People with cancer require highly specialised care

Cancer patients require highly specialised care delivered in a number of settings with multiple providers, as well as many different types of treatment. Survival and quality of life depend on early detection and referral to an appropriate multidisciplinary team for diagnosis, and a best
practice treatment plan accompanied by supportive care.

People living in rural and regional Australia – more than 30% of Australians – tend to experience the greatest difficulties in accessing the full range of medical and specialist services, including cancer care.

This is because of sparse health infrastructure, geographic isolation, and a relative shortage of health care providers. For some cancers, rural residents are up to three times more likely to die than their urban counterparts within five years of being diagnosed. Similarly, cancer outcomes
amongst Indigenous Australians are especially poor.

The cancer patient’s journey is frequently challenging and may cross multiple settings in both the private and public sectors. Cancer care involves numerous doctors and specialists, often providing care independently of one another. Navigating this complex system can be difficult for patients at a stressful time. It is therefore important to coordinate cancer care and treatment in a timely, seamless way to improve survival and quality of life for each patient.




1 AIHW: Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality Books, 5 February 2010.
2 AIHW: Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality Books, 5 February 2010.
3 AIHW: Cancer in Australia: An Overview, 2008.