Which cancers are diagnosed too late?
Three of the five most common cancers diagnosed in Australia – breast, prostate and melanoma – are caught at an early, survivable stage, landmark data has revealed.
But the good news does not extend to lung or colorectal cancers.
Figures released by Cancer Australia on Thursday shows just 18 per cent of lung cancer cases recorded in 2011 were diagnosed as early stage (stage 1 or stage 2).
Two out of five (42 per cent) lung cancer cases were classified as stage 4 or metastatic, where the cancer had spread to others organs, at time of diagnosis.
Cancer Australia CEO Dr Helen Zorbas says the data explains why lung cancer is the nation’s number one cancer killer.
“So it is a cancer that is diagnosed late and therefore survival outcomes reflect that,” said Dr Zorbas.
Fewer than half (46 per cent) of colorectal cancer cases were diagnosed at ‘early stage’.
Wanting to fill a gap in the data with the aim of improving cancer survival, researchers at Cancer Australia spent years collaborating with all of the Australian cancer registries and Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to gather information on ‘stage at diagnosis’ for the five most common cancers – female breast cancer, colorectal, lung, prostate and melanoma.
The data reveals stage of diagnosis varies greatly among the cancer types.
The majority of female breast (77 per cent), prostate (82 per cent) and melanoma (92 per cent) were diagnosed as early stage, compared to colorectal (46 per cent) and lung cancer (18 per cent).
For colorectal cancer, a higher proportion of patients aged 50 years were diagnosed with ‘early stage’ disease compared to those aged less than 50.
Women aged 50 or older were more likely to be diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, while the under 50s had more success at catching lung and prostate cancer early.
There was also significant variation in stage at diagnosis among population groups.
A higher proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with advancer cancer than non-Indigenous Australians.
Dr Zorbas says this critical new data represents a “major leap forward” in cancer control in Australia.
“The data will help us explore the relationship between cancer stage at diagnosis and survival outcomes, and the role of public health initiatives, early detection and awareness campaigns,” said Dr Zorbas.
You can access Cancer Australia’s stage-at-diagnosis data here.