Cancer is the disease group with the biggest impact on our health-costing us, as a nation, more years of life than any other-according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011, 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,' said 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 said.
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 said.
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 said.
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.
Today's report expands on the AIHW's existing burden of disease analysis.