Survival is a general term indicating the probability of being alive for a given amount of time after a diagnosis of cancer. Cancer survival statistics are a key indicator of cancer prognosis, control and treatment. Prevalence measures the number of people living with cancer and is essential for health-care planning and service delivery. This report presents the latest national survival and prevalence statistics for cancers in Australia from 1982 to 2010. Note that survival estimates in this report were produced using a revised methodology and should not be compared with those from previous national survival reports.

Survival improved over time, but not for all cancers 

Five-year survival from all cancers combined increased from 47% in the period 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. Four cancers did not show any significant changes over time: those of the lip, larynx and brain, and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Only bladder cancer showed a significant decrease in survival, which may be partly related to changes in coding and age at diagnosis.

Cancer is a heterogeneous disease and survival outcomes varied 

Survival varied markedly by cancer type. In the period 2006-2010, cancers with the highest survival were those of the testis, lip, prostate and thyroid, and melanoma of the skin. All of these cancers had a 5-year survival of 90% or higher. In comparison, pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma had the lowest survival: 5-year survival for these cancers was less than 10%.

Women generally had higher survival than men, and younger people had higher survival than older people. For almost all cancers, survival dropped steeply for the very old.

Cancer survival also differed by population group. For all cancers combined, survival was lower for those living in remote and regional areas compared with those in major cities. There was also a gradient of decreasing survival with greater socioeconomic disadvantage.

Survival was high for those who had already survived the first few years after a cancer diagnosis 

For the first time nationally, this report presents survival for those who have already survived a given number of years after diagnosis, known as conditional survival. The results point to a positive finding: if those with cancer had already survived 5 years past their diagnosis, their survival prospects for the next 5 years were quite high-more than 90% for all cancers combined.