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Media Release

New cancer data highlights lost opportunities in bowel cancer screening and rising liver cancer toll

February 3, 2017

Latest cancer trends published on eve of World Cancer Day (4 Feb 2017)

New national cancer data released today highlights lost opportunities in bowel cancer screening and an alarming increase in liver cancer deaths, Cancer Council Australia said today.

Cancer Council Australia CEO and President of the International Union for Cancer Control, Professor Sanchia Aranda, said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s new report Cancer in Australia 2017 highlighted the benefits of cancer prevention and early detection.

“The good news is that Australia continues to have some of the best cancer outcomes in the world. Cancer incidence rates continue to fall. More importantly the cancer death rate also continues to drop – today’s report shows that 68% of people diagnosed with cancer survive at least five years, a 20% increase from the 1980s.

“However, the data also outlines the challenges and opportunities for reducing the impact of cancer in Australia.”

Cancer continues to be the biggest cause of disease burden in Australia – largely because of its contribution to the number of premature deaths.

“Over 134,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Yet we continue to see low participation rates in our three lifesaving cancer screening programs for bowel, breast and cervical cancer,” said Professor Aranda.

Professor Aranda said bowel cancer screening presented the biggest unrealised opportunity to drive cancer death rates down further, with fewer than 40% of people eligible participating in a free program which has been shown to save lives.

“Cancer Council modelling shows that if bowel cancer screening participation increased to 60% by 2020, we could prevent 83,700 premature bowel cancer deaths over the next two decades.” 

Professor Aranda said liver cancer was the only common cancer where mortality rates had increased.

“This is likely to be due to increases in Hepatitis B and C infection and risk factors such as high body mass and excess alcohol consumption. Governments and health services everywhere need to do more to help improve the management of people who may be at increased risk of liver cancer.”

The report from the AIHW also outlines that some of Australia’s most common cancers, are also some of the most preventable.

“Among the most common cancer types are breast, bowel, melanoma and lung cancer, reinforcing the continued importance of healthy lifestyle habits including quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and diet, reducing alcohol intake, being physically active, being SunSmart and getting checked.

“Lung cancer continues to be our biggest cancer killer. As well as a continued focus on prevention through promoting quitting smoking, research to improve lung cancer survival is vital.

“This Saturday is World Cancer Day and the theme is #WeCanICan – this timely report not only shows what Australia as a community needs to do to reduce the impact of cancer, but also what we can each do as individuals to reduce our cancer risk.”

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