NACCHO health alert: Report documents Aboriginal people are 50 per cent more likely to die from cancer than other Australians


Cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia: an overview is one of a series of reports commissioned by Cancer Australia and developed in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.



This report provides, for the first time, a comprehensive summary of population-level cancer statistics across a number of states and territories in Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples alongside comparative figures for non-Indigenous Australians

. It aims to document key cancer statistics to inform health professionals, policy makers, health planners, educators, researchers and the broader public of relevant data to understand and work towards reducing the impact of cancer for Indigenous Australians.

On average, per day, around two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are diagnosed with cancer and there is just over one cancer-related death.


Importantly, this report identifies significant differences between Indigenous Australians and their non-Indigenous counterparts. While incidence rates for cancer overall were marginally higher for Indigenous peoples, mortality and survival differences between the two population groups were more marked with cancer mortality rates 1.5 times higher and survival percentages 1.3 times lower for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

This report also looks at the 10 most commonly diagnosed cancers as well as the 10 most commonly reported causes of cancer deaths for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia, accounting for over 60% of cancers in these groups. Lung cancer was both the most commonly diagnosed cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths for this population group. Differences between gender and across age groups are also identified.

Transcript of the ABC interview:

In a recent interview on ABC’s , Mark Colvin discussed findings from the Australian Institute of Health and Cancer Australia which indicates that Indigenous people are 50 per cent more likely to die from cancer than other Australians.

MARK COLVIN: It may be the most deadly reality of closing the gap: Indigenous people are 50 per cent more likely to die from cancer than other Australians. And that’s just one of the shocking findings contained in a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Cancer Australia. It’s the first comprehensive investigation into increased cancer rates among Indigenous Australians.

MANDIE SAMI: Cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia: An Overview is the first comprehensive summary of cancer statistics for Indigenous Australians.

The head of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s cancer and screening unit, Justin Harvey, says the report reveals disturbing facts.

JUSTIN HARVEY: Indigenous Australians are approximately 50 per cent more likely to die from cancer than non-Indigenous Australians and that’s quite a big difference between the two. The rate of new cases for Indigenous Australians is also higher and survival from cancer is poorer.

MANDIE SAMI: Kristin Carson is the chair of the Indigenous Lung Health working party for the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand. She says it’s sad that she’s not shocked by the findings.

KRISTIN CARSON: This is something that has been going on for such a long time. I mean, we know that there is a disparity in health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It’s actually atrocious.

A lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who see this probably already know it. They live this. This is the reality and I guess it’s these types of more shocking statistics that bring the kind of problems that we’re having to light.

MANDIE SAMI: The CEO of Cancer Australia, Professor Helen Zorbas, says there are a number of reasons why there’s such a huge discrepancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

HELEN ZORBAS: Those factors definitely include tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of infections such as hepatitis B. In addition to that, Indigenous peoples are less likely to participate in screening programs.

Also, the proportion of Indigenous people who live in regional and rural and remote areas is higher than for non-Indigenous people and therefore access to care and services – we have a higher proportion of Indigenous people who discontinue treatment.

MANDIE SAMI: The head of the Institute’s cancer and screening unit, Justin Harvey, says even the types of cancer most prevalent among Indigenous Australians are different.

JUSTIN HARVEY: In terms of the most commonly diagnosed cancers for Indigenous Australians, these were lung cancer, followed by breast cancer in females and bowel cancer. Whereas for non-Indigenous Australians, the most commonly diagnosed were prostate cancer, followed by bowel cancer and breast cancer in females.

MANDIE SAMI: Mr Harvey says the report shows there needs to be more health promotion campaigns and services targeting Indigenous Australians.

JUSTIN HARVEY: The most important thing is that the information is used in looking at what are the needs and how best to address those needs.

MANDIE SAMI: That call has been backed by Kristin Carson. She says there’s also a need to evaluate whether current campaigns like these are working.

ACTOR, ANTI-SMOKING AD: I was smoking but I quit. If I can do it, I reckon we all can.

ACTOR 2, ANTI-SMOKING AD: Not quitting is harder.

MANDIE SAMI: Ms Carson says all Australians have a moral obligation to ensure that improving the health of Indigenous Australians is a national priority.

KRISTIN CARSON: Talk with community members, find out what we should be doing, and again, it highlights that we really need to be looking at research or evaluations in this area to try and better address this problem.

MANDIE SAMI: Associate Professor Gail Garvey is a senior researcher in cancer and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health at the Menzies School of Health.

She hopes the findings will make policymakers realise the devastating effect cancer is having on Indigenous populations.

GAIL GARVEY: Other areas, you know, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease, which are all very important in their own right, tend to get the sort of focus, where cancer has just been sort of creeping behind all the other illnesses and diseases thus far.

So I think this report will give us a chance and give governments and health professionals and communities an opportunity now to actually look at what’s happening, you know, in black and white in this report, what’s happening nationally. And hopefully we can do something more about it than what’s currently being done.

MARK COLVIN: Associate Professor Gail Garvey, ending Mandie Sami’s report

For more information visit the ABC’s 2pm website



NACCHO health promotion news: Geelong AFL Cats Promote the Deadly Choices Message



MAKING GOOD CHOICES: Cats Steven Motlop and Mathew Stokes with Dylan Jones and Wathaurong CEO Tracey Currie at the Deadly Choices launch. Photo: PETER RISTEVSKI

The Geelong Football Club will run programs in Victoria to share anti-smoking, smoke-free and healthy lifestyle choice messages with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

Minister for Indigenous Health Warren Snowdon said at a meeting with Wathaurong Aboriginal Cooperative today that the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) had received $150,000 in funding to deliver programs in partnership with the Cats, and to look at ways of rolling out the program across Victoria.

“Starting in the Barwon region, the Cats‟ players will explain what Deadly Choices they have personally made. They will encourage young people to say no to smokes and adopt healthy lifestyle choices, including connecting to culture, healthy eating and physical activity,” he said.

In some activities, kids are put through their paces with footy drills and get to share a barbeque lunch with their AFL heroes.

Mr Snowdon said the campaign is funded as part of the rollout of Regional Tackling Smoking and Healthy Lifestyle activities across Australia.

“This approach was first developed in Queensland by the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health, which engaged NRL stars including Sam Thaiday and Preston Campbell as sporting role models for the Deadly Choices strategy Queensland,” Mr Snowdon said.

The partnership will support the two Deadly Choices TV commercials that feature „healthy living‟ Geelong Cats, Allen Christensen and Matthew Stokes.

Smoking has been found to be responsible for 17 per cent of the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and broader Australian population.

Tobacco smoking directly causes a third each of cancer and cardiovascular disease amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and accounts for one-fifth of deaths.

For more information, contact the minister’s office on 02 6277 7820