Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study shows cancer biggest burden on health

Cancer is the biggest health burden in Australia, and Tasmania has some of the highest rates of certain cancers in the nation, according to new research.

A report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, found cancer had the biggest impact on health in the country of any other group of diseases.

It found Tasmania had the highest rates of breast and brain cancers in the country and the second highest rates of prostate and bowel cancers.

The report, Burden of cancer in Australia: Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011, used data from that year to calculate the health impact of cancer. It showed the impact was greater than any other group of diseases, accounting for one-fifth of the burden.

“This is calculated in terms of years of life lost due to early death from cancer, as well as the years of healthy life lost due to living with the disease,” institute spokeswoman Michelle Gourley said.

While other conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, were more common and caused a greater number of deaths, researchers found cancer resulted in more years of life lost.

The report showed five types of cancer accounted for almost half of the cancer burden - lung, bowel, breast, prostate and pancreatic.

“Overall, the burden from cancer lessened between 2003 and 2011 – down by 10 per cent – and this same pattern was seen across most individual cancer types,” Ms Gourley said.

Almost a quarter – 22 per cent – of the total cancer burden can be attributed to tobacco use.

Michelle Gourley

The study found people in remote and lower socioeconomic areas experienced greater cancer burden than other Australians.

In particular, people in the lowest socioeconomic group experienced burden from lung cancer at almost twice the rate of the highest socioeconomic group.

The report also looked at the relationship between a range of behavioural risk factors, such as tobacco smoking, obesity, poor diet and physical inactivity, and the burden of cancer.

“Notably, almost a quarter – 22 per cent – of the total cancer burden can be attributed to tobacco use.”