Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012 is a joint report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the state and territory members of the Australasian Association of Cancer Registries, and is a product of the National Cancer Statistics Clearing House. It provides a comprehensive picture of national statistics on cancer, presenting the latest available data and trends over time. Differences by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, state and territory, remoteness area and socioeconomic status are also discussed.

Cancer is the major cause of illness in Australia

In 2012, it is estimated that more than 120,700 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer, excluding basal and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. More than half (56%) of these cases are expected to be diagnosed in males. The most commonly reported cancers in 2012 are expected to be prostate cancer, followed by bowel cancer, breast cancer, melanoma of the skin and lung cancer.

Between 1991 and 2009, the number of new cancer cases diagnosed almost doubled-from 66,393 to 114,137. This increasing trend is primarily due to the rise in the number of prostate cancer, breast cancer in females, bowel cancer and lung cancer, and is partly explained by the ageing and increasing size of the population.

Mortality rate due to cancer has fallen

In 2010, more than 42,800 Australians died from cancer. Cancer accounted for about 3 in 10 deaths in Australia, making it the second most common cause of death, exceeded only by cardiovascular diseases. For all cancers combined, the age-standardised mortality rate decreased by 17% from 210 per 100,000 in 1991 to 174 per 100,000 in 2010.

Survival improved over time, but not consistent across all cancers

Five-year survival from all cancers combined increased from 47% in 1982-1987 to 66% in 2006-2010. The cancers that had the largest survival gains over this time were prostate cancer, kidney cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Gains in survival have not been consistent across all cancers. Some cancers that already had low survival in 1982-1987 showed only small gains, such as mesothelioma (from 5.5% to 6.2%), brain cancer (from 20% to 22%), pancreatic cancer (from 3% to 5%) and lung cancer (from 9% to 14%).

Australians diagnosed with cancer generally had better survival prospects compared with people living in other countries and regions.

Cancer outcomes differ across population groups

Cancer outcomes differ by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status, remoteness area and socioeconomic status. For all cancers combined, Indigenous Australians experienced higher incidence and mortality rates than non-Indigenous Australians. Incidence rates and survival were lower for people living in remote areas compared with those in major cities, while mortality rates rose with increasing remoteness. Incidence and mortality rates rose and survival from all cancers fell as a person's socioeconomic status decreased.