” In Australia, the poorest among us are 30% more likely to die of cancer than the richest.
There is also a big gap in cancer outcomes for our Indigenous Australian population, where incident rates from cancer are 10% higher than non-Indigenous Australians and mortality rates are 30% higher.
Similarly, cancer incidence (particularly cancers with poorer prognoses) and mortality are significantly higher outside capital cities, with outcomes worsening in step with remoteness.
So why are money, cultural background, geographic location and cancer types leading to some Australians being left behind?
More research is required to definitively pinpoint why these trends are occurring, but several factors stand out. More needs to be done to promote healthy lifestyles and cancer prevention to some parts of our community.
As an example, we know that smoking rates are higher in Indigenous populations and among poorer Australians and also link to cancers with poorer prognosis such as lung cancer.
Continued investment in anti-smoking campaigns tailored to these communities is critical in reducing this disparity. Currently around 40% of Indigenous Australians smoke compared with 12.2% of the general Australian population. In remote communities, this rises to around 60%.
Other unhealthy lifestyles that can increase cancer risk, including excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and obesity, are also more prevalent among socio-economically disadvantaged populations
Professor Sanchia Aranda is the CEO of Cancer Council Australia
According to the Cancer Council Australia 1 in 3 cancers could be preventable through lifestyle choices.
We know that preventing cancer is one of the most effective ways of creating a cancer free future.
At least one in three cancer cases could be prevented and the number of cancer deaths could be reduced significantly by choosing a cancer smart lifestyle.
Each year, more than 13,000 cancer deaths are due to smoking, sun exposure, poor diet, alcohol, inadequate exercise or being overweight.
Fortunately, there are a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk of cancer such as:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Quitting smoking
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Being SunSmart
- Get checked
Read more about the seven steps to reducing your cancer risk in Cancer Council’s cancer prevention lifestyle fact sheets.
” The review shows that cultural safety in service provision, increased participation in breast, bowel and cervical screening and reduction in risk factors will improve outcomes for cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The good news is that many cancers are considered to be preventable. Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, followed by breast cancer, bowel cancer and prostate cancer.
Tobacco smoking is still seen as the greatest risk factor for cancer’.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services are located in all jurisdictions and are funded by the federal,state and territory governments and other sources .
They are planned and governed by local Aboriginal and Torres Strait and Torres
Strait Islander communities and aim to deliver holistic and culturally appropriate health and health-related services.
Services vary in the primary health care activities they offer. Possible activities include: diagnosis and treatment of illness or disease; management of chronic illness; transportation to medical appointments; outreach clinic services; immunisations; dental services; and dialysis services.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cancer support groups have been identified as important for improving cancer awareness and increasing participation in cancer screening services .
Aboriginal women attending these support groups have reported an increased
understanding of screening and reported less fear and concern over cultural appropriateness, with increases in screening rates .
Support groups have also been found to help in follow up and ongoing care for cancer survivors [19, 93], particularly where they are shaped to meet the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [73, 94].”
See Page 12 of 2018 Review
The Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet (HealthInfoNet) at Edith Cowan University published a in 2018 Review of cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The review, written by University of Western Australia staff (Margaret Haigh, Sandra Thompson and Emma Taylor), in conjunction with HealthInfoNet staff (Jane Burns, Christine Potter, Michelle Elwell, Mikayla Hollows, Juliette Mundy), provides general information on factors that contribute to cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It provides detailed information on the extent of cancer including incidence, prevalence and survival, mortality, burden of disease and health service utilisation.
This review discusses the issues of prevention and management of cancer, and provides information on relevant programs, services, policies and strategies that address cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The review provides:
- general information on factors (historical/protective/risk) that contribute to cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- detailed information on the extent of cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including: incidence, prevalence and survival data; mortality and burden of disease and health service utilisation
- a discussion of the issues of prevention and management of cancer
- information on relevant programs, services, policies and strategies that address cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- a conclusion on the possible future directions for combating cancer in Australia
Despite considerable improvements in cancer detection and treatment over recent decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people diagnosed with cancer generally experience poorer outcomes than non-Indigenous people for an equivalent stage of disease [27, 97]. This is highlighted by statistics which showed that, despite lower rates of prevalence and hospitalisation for all cancers combined for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people compared with non-Indigenous people, between 1998 and 2015, the age-standardised mortality rate ranged from 195 to 246 per 100,000 while the rate for non-Indigenous people decreased from 194 to 164 per 100,000 .
Furthermore for 2007–2014, while 65% of non-Indigenous people had a chance of surviving five years after receiving a cancer diagnosis, only 50% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did .
The disparities are particularly pronounced for some specific cancers – for lung cancer the age-standardised incidence rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was twice that for non-Indigenous people, while for cervical cancer the rate was 2.5 times the rate for non-Indigenous people for 2009–2013 .
The factors contributing to these poorer outcomes among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are complex. They reflect a broad range of historical, social and cultural determinants and the contribution of lifestyle and other health risk factors , combined with lower participation in screening programs, later diagnosis, lower uptake and completion of cancer treatment, and the presence of other chronic diseases [27, 98, 155]. Addressing the various factors that contribute to the development of cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is important, but improvements in some of these areas, particularly in reducing lifestyle and behavioural risk factors, are likely to take some time to be reflected in better outcomes.
Current deficiencies in the prevention and management of cancer suggest there is considerable scope for better services that should lead to improvements in the short to medium term. Effective cancer prevention and management programs that are tailored to community needs and are culturally appropriate are vital for the current and future health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people [56, 57]. Providing effective cancer prevention and management also requires improved access to both high quality primary health care services and tertiary specialist services. Effective and innovative programs for the prevention and management of cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do exist on an individual basis and, in some cases, the efforts made to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in screening programs, in particular, are impressive. However, a more coordinated, cohesive national approach is also required.
Reducing the impact of cancer among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a crucial aspect in ‘closing the gap’ in health outcomes. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cancer framework  may be an important first step in addressing the current disparity in cancer outcomes and raises the probability of real progress being made. Cancer Australia has recently released the Optimal Care pathway for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which recommends new approaches to cancer care and with the aim of reducing disparities and improving outcomes and experiences for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with cancer . As encouraging as these developments are, substantial improvements will also depend upon the effective implementation of comprehensive strategies and policies that address the complexity of the factors underlying the disadvantages experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Action beyond the health service sector that addresses the broader historical, social and cultural determinants of health are also required if real progress is to be made