Cancer causes most years of life lost

cancer explained

Cancer is the disease group with the biggest impact on our health, costing Australians more years of life than any other

Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011, also shows that nearly a quarter of cancer cases can be attributed to tobacco alone.

A new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare uses 2011 data to calculate the health impact—or burden—of cancer, and shows that its impact is greater than any other group of diseases, accounting for one-fifth of the burden.

“This is calculated in terms of years of life lost due to early death from cancer, as well as the years of healthy life lost due to living with the disease,” says AIHW spokesperson Michelle Gourley.

While other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, are more common and cause a greater number of deaths, cancer results in more years of life lost due to deaths occurring in younger age groups.

The report shows five types of cancer accounted for almost half of the cancer burden: lung, bowel, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

“Overall, the burden from cancer lessened between 2003 and 2011—down by 10%—and this same pattern was seen across most individual cancer types,” Ms Gourley says.

However, this was not true for all population groups, with the cancer burden for Indigenous Australians worsening since 2003.

“Indigenous Australians experienced a cancer burden 1.7 times that of non-Indigenous Australians, and the gap was particularly notable when it came to lung cancer,” Ms Gourley says.

Indigenous males experienced 2.3 times the lung cancer burden of non-Indigenous males, and for Indigenous females the rate was 2.6 times as high.

Australians in remote and lower socioeconomic areas also experienced greater cancer burden than other Australians. In particular, people in the lowest socioeconomic group experienced burden from lung cancer at almost twice the rate of the highest socioeconomic group.

The report also looks at the relationship between a range of behavioural risk factors (such as tobacco smoking, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity) and the burden of cancer.

“Notably, almost a quarter (22%) of the total cancer burden can be attributed to tobacco use,” Ms Gourley says.

An AIHW report released earlier this month revealed that after a long term decline, smoking rates have plateaued, but the proportion of Australians who have never smoked continues to rise.

Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO, Cancer Council Australia also warned of a looming wave of liver cancer.

“Although the report shows an overall modest improvement in the death and disease burden attributed to cancer, the report also highlights some worrying trends and missed opportunities,” Prof Aranda says.

“In particular, this report shows that based on the latest trends, Australia faces a potential crisis in liver cancer, where death rates have increased seven-fold over the past 50 years. It is predicted that this burden will increase by another 60% between 2012 and 2020.

“We need a national strategy to prevent liver cancer and to monitor at-risk people—otherwise it is likely to get into the unenviable list of top five cancers causing disease burden in Australia.”

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