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Single biggest health burden is cancer attributed to tobacco use

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Cancer accounts for about one-fifth of Australia’s health burden, with tobacco use the biggest contributor, newly released figures reveal.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released research based on data sourced from the 2011 Australian Burden of Disease that shows cancer was the greatest cause of health burden in Australia, accounting for around one-fifth of the total disease burden.

AIHW’s burden of disease analysis is more than merely counting deaths or disease incidence and prevalence, burden of disease analysis takes into account age at death and severity of disease for all diseases, conditions and injuries, in a consistent and comparable way.

“This (burden) 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,” AIHW spokeswoman Michelle Gourley said.

Almost half (48 per cent) of the total cancer burden in 2011 is from five cancers—lung, bowel, breast, prostate and pancreatic cancers.  However the single biggest burden —and almost one-quarter (22 per cent) of the total cancer burden can be attributed to tobacco use.

The report states that most (94 per cent) of this burden was due to dying prematurely, with only a small proportion of the burden due to living with a cancer diagnosis. Even though fewer people die from cancer than cardiovascular disease, the burden of cancer deaths is higher.

The AIHW report also found that Indigenous Australians experienced 1.7 times the cancer burden of non-Indigenous Australians. In particular, Indigenous males experience 2.3 times the lung cancer burden of non-Indigenous males, and Indigenous females 2.6 times the lung cancer burden of non-Indigenous females.

Australians living in rural Australia were also shown in the report to face a higher burden, especially the burden of lung, bowel, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

“Indigenous Australians experienced a cancer burden 1.7 times that of non-Indigenous Australians, and the gap was particularly notable when it came to lung cancer,” Ms Gourley said.

Further, poorer Australians found themselves with an increased rate of cancer burden, with people in the lowest socioeconomic group experiencing 1.4 times the cancer burden of people in the highest group. In particular, the rate of lung cancer burden in the lowest group is almost twice the rate in the highest group.

This report presents detailed findings on the burden due to cancer in Australia using results from the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2011.

Meredith Horne

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