July 2015

New data released today (23/7) shows that cancer death rates in Australia are continuing to fall, but not quickly enough, according to Cancer Council Australia.

Cancer Council Australia's Director of Public Policy, Paul Grogan, said the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare projections were based on trends showing a steady decrease in cancer deaths since the late 1960s, with a steeper drop from the late 1990s.

"Thousands of cancers that would have caused death a generation ago are now being prevented before they occurred or detected early when they were easier to treat," he said. "A significant number were also being managed over longer periods or being cured by technology developed through recent research. Mr Grogan said the declines showed that evidence-based prevention, early detection and treatment advances are working. However, while the projections showed that mortality trends were headed in the right direction on a population basis, this was little comfort for thousands of individual Australians coping with a cancer diagnosis.

"Behind every statistic in today's new Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report there is a real human story," Mr Grogan said. "While we should celebrate our achievements, we are still facing a projected 56,000 Australian cancer deaths in 2025. There are things we can all do, now, to work towards bringing that figure down."

According to Mr Grogan, the mortality data and projections on specific tumours showed where we had succeeded and where we needed to do more.

"For example, lung cancer death rates in Australian men are expected to decrease by 21 per cent in 2025, almost entirely because of reductions in males smoking rates.

"However, women's lung cancer death rates will increase slightly because their rates of smoking peaked later than men's. It shows how things we do now can significantly affect future death rates."

Mr Grogan explained that the data also showed that while death rates for cancers such as bowel and breast cancer would continue to drop due to the benefits of early detection, there had been little progress for a range of other cancers such as those affecting the brain and pancreas.

"Ultimately, there is a lot more we can do as a community to improve outcomes relating to all Australians affected by cancer," he said.

"Prevention, early detection, equitable access to treatment, more research into those cancers that continue to challenge scientists – we need to do more of what works so that the projected 56,000 deaths in 2025 is reduced further than the trend data suggests.

"While there is good news in these stats and projections, around 120,000 Australians are being diagnosed with cancer each year, and we need to care and support all of them, and do more to prevent cancer."