Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Australia Tops World Cancer Charts

By AusSMC

The cancer agency of the World Health Organization has revealed that Australian men have the highest incidence of cancer in the world. The data reveals striking patterns of cancer in women and highlights that preventing and controlling breast and cervical cancers globally should be prioritised.

The Globocan 2012 figures show a rise in the incidence of cancer worldwide. In Australia we are seeing more people being diagnosed with cancer, largely due to our ageing population. More people are living to an age where cancer becomes more common. In addition, it probably reflects more men having PSA tests for prostate cancer.

The good news for Australia is that our death rate from cancer is decreasing. This is largely due to better treatments and population screening programs for breast, cervical and bowel cancer. It is a tragedy that the high rate of cervical cancer in developing nations could be addressed by the introduction of screening programs, alongside a HPV vaccination program like the one that has proven so successful in Australia.

Professor Ian Olver is CEO of the Cancer Council Australia.

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The worldwide cancer incidence and consequential deaths presented in GLOBOCAN 2012, broken down in respect of both geography and tumour type, represents the most definitive and accessible information about the global burden of this disease.

The gravest message concerns the increasing cancer burden in middle- and low-income countries that find themselves almost overwhelmed by (1) cancer attributable to various infections, (2) cancer attributable to western lifestyle practices which are increasingly adopted, and (3) poor public health and medical resources to achieve early detection and hence better survival. Only one of these considerations – certain lifestyle practices – can be identified as crucial to Australia.

Australia, because of an ageing population and, to a lesser extent, population-based testing for early detection of some tumour types, has one of the highest incidences of cancer worldwide, but a much better comparative outlook in relation to survival of cancer patients after diagnosis.

For Australia, GLOBOCAN 2012 presses home the messages that local public health authorities have given: some cancer cases are inexplicable, but at least one-third could be prevented by smoking cessation, reduced alcohol intake, avoiding overweight/obesity and doing the right thing about sun exposure.

Bernard Stewart is Professor of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of NSW, and Head of the Cancer Control Program at the South-East Sydney Public Health Unit.

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Australia and New Zealand have very efficient and accurate cancer registries. This is not universally the case around the world so the very thorough data capture in part explains this outcome.

Secondly, more active programs to find cancer at an early stage means the incidence rates in Australia will be higher than countries where there are fewer population screening programs that have strong participation levels. When you go actively looking for cancer and do it well you tend to find more cancer.

Thirdly, it is perverse but true that people in “healthy” countries are more likely to live long enough to receive a cancer diagnosis. So high cancer incidence rates are largely a sign of other health services and programs, including public health infrastructure like clean water, safe food, reliable sanitation and sound safety practices, being successful.

Another prominent feature of the report is the pronounced differential between men and woman when it comes to cancer incidence in Australia. This differential is not as pronounced in other parts of the world and deserves closer attention. We need to do more about blokes and cancer.

Terry Slevin is Director of Education and Research at The Cancer Council WA.

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One of the reasons that Australian men have such a high incidence of cancer is that people are living longer as we all become more affluent (our lifespan increases an extra 3 months every year on average). This means that we have a greater incidence of ‘diseases of affluence’ – including cancer.

But it’s also worth noting that some of the apparent increase is not real. It appears to be the case because people are not dying from some other groups of diseases (heart disease and infections, which are easier to prevent and treat), which means that, because we all have to die of something, more people end up dying of cancer.

Chris Del Mar is Professor of Public Health at Bond University.

Report source: http://globocan.iarc.fr/