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Cancer to become more common

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An extra 40,000 Australians a year will be diagnosed with cancer by 2024 as the population ages and the trend toward increasing prevalence of the disease continues.

In estimates developed to help prepare the health system to meet future demand, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has projected that cancer diagnosis will grow at an average annual rate of 3.3 per cent in the next decade.

According to the estimate, this means that 169,648 people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2024, up from 129,790 this year.

Historically, the incidence of cancer has been increasing, rising by 0.9 per cent a year between 1982 and 2010.

But, in an encouraging development, the diagnosis is no longer the death sentence it was once regarded to be.

The overall mortality rate dropped by 0.3 per cent a year between 1968 and 2011, while the five-year survival rate has jumped in two decades from below 47 per cent to above 66 per cent.

Despite these developments, cancer remains the nation’s second biggest killer, behind cardiovascular disease, and the risk of dying from cancer is one in four in men and one in six in women.

Among the cancers, the most common by far is lung cancer – it claimed 8114 lives in 2011, more than double the next most common cancer, bowel cancer (3999 deaths).

But the incidence of lung cancer, as well as cervical and bladder cancer, is decreasing, while the diagnosis of other cancers, such as breast, prostate and skin cancer, is becoming more common.

Overall, improvements in early detection and treatment mean the proportion of the population who are cancer survivors is likely to continue to grow.

As at 2007, there were around 775,000 cancer survivors – around 3.7 per cent of the overall population.

For those planning future health system needs, the growing number of cancer survivors will be an important consideration.

According to the AIHW, survivors have particular needs and helping care and support for them will be increasingly a challenge.

Not only may they experience physical and emotional aftereffects of their diagnosis and treatment, they can be at risk of developing the same or a different cancer in future years.

Adrian Rollins