Australia leads the world in cancer survival, new research shows

Sep 12, 2019
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Australians with cancer are most likely to survive their diagnosis for oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung and ovary cancers. Source: Getty

Cancer is a leading cause of death in Australia and while there will be 145,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed by the end of the year and 50,000 cancer-related deaths in 2019 alone, a new study shows that Australia actually leads the world when it comes to cancer survival rates. Research led by the International Agency for Cancer Research examined the cancer survival rates in seven high-income countries and analysed data for more than 3.7 million cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, lung, and ovary.

The study, published in the Lancet Oncology Journal, ranked the cancer survival rates in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and the UK by looking at survival rates one year after a diagnosis and five years after a diagnosis. This allowed researchers to compare each country and cancer type and whether survival rates improved over time.

The study found that compared to other countries, Australians with cancer were most likely to survive at least a year after their diagnosis for each type of cancer measured in the study. It also found that Aussies had the highest five-year survival rates for oesophagus, stomach, colon, rectum and pancreas cancers, but that survival rates were higher in Canada and Norway for lung and ovary cancers.

Australia’s survival rate for stomach cancer is 32.8 per cent, and the five-year survival rate for colon and rectal cancer sits at 70.8 per cent. The rate was lower for pancreatic cancer at just 14.6 per cent, while oesophagus was 23.5 per cent, lung cancer was 21.4 per cent and ovary cancer was 43.2 per cent.

While Cancer Council Australia has welcomed the results of the study, the organisation stressed that survival rates for some cancers remain too low.

“It is highly encouraging to see that Australia is leading the world in cancer survival. However, there are some cancer types, such as lung and pancreatic cancer, where survival rates are still incredibly low, so we still have a long way to go to ensure that our cancer outcomes are great across the board,” Professor Sanchia Aranda, CEO Cancer Council Australia, said in a statement. “We also see some communities in Australia with significantly lower survival rates than the national average.”

The study did show consistent improvements in survival rates over time in all countries, which could indicate that cancer is being better diagnosed and treated. Australia’s overall cancer survival rate is almost 70 per cent – an increase from 50 per cent in 1990.

It was also found that between 1995 and 2014, both the one and five-year survival rates of the seven cancers was higher in Australia, Canada and Norway, but lower in New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland and the UK. The largest improvements were also seen in those diagnosed under the age of 75.

“The improvements in cancer survival observed are likely a direct consequence of healthcare reforms and technological advances that enable earlier diagnosis, more effective and tailored treatment and better patient management,” lead author Melina Arnold said in a statement. “Improvements in surgical techniques and new guidelines including preoperative radiotherapy as well as better diagnosis and scanning, enabling better staging of cancers and selection for targeted therapies, have all improved patient outcomes.”

Meanwhile, Professor David Currow, author of the paper and Chief Cancer Officer of NSW and Chief Executive Officer of the Cancer Institute NSW, explained how Australia specifically is working toward continued improvements in cancer survival and that people being seen at the right place and at the right time increases their chance of being offered life-saving treatment and their chance of long-term survival.

Currow said: “This means increasing the numbers of people who are having their cancer detected earlier, ensuring that they are referred to a multi-disciplinary cancer care team and ensuring that if surgery is appropriate, they receive it in a hospital performing the procedure regularly.”

The study’s authors noted that the research was observational and that cancer data can be collected differently for different cancer registries, which could impact results. Still, they said considerable effort was made to ensure the data were comparable.

It’s always important to talk to your GP or health professional about your individual risk factors for cancer and the best ways to reduce the risk.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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