Cancer risk greater for Indigenous Australians

Release Date

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have higher rates of new cancer cases and cancer deaths than non-Indigenous Australians, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and Cancer Australia.

Cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia: an overview is the first comprehensive summary of cancer statistics for Indigenous Australians.

The report details the leading causes of cancer deaths for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey said Indigenous Australians also had lower survival rates after a cancer diagnosis than non-Indigenous Australians.

‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples diagnosed with cancer between 1999 and 2007 had a 40% chance of surviving for at least 5 years, compared with 52% for non-Indigenous Australians,’ Mr Harvey said.

Cancer Australia CEO Professor Helen Zorbas said the report highlighted the significant impact that cancer had on the Indigenous population.

‘Whilst incidence rates for cancer overall were marginally higher for Indigenous Australians, mortality and survival differences between the two population groups are far more striking with Indigenous Australians being approximately 50% more likely to die from cancer than non-Indigenous Australians,’ Professor Zorbas said.

Mr Harvey said that while lung cancer was at the top of the rankings for both groups, differences emerged after that.

‘After lung cancer, the two most common causes of cancer death among Indigenous Australians are cancer of the liver and breast cancer (in females). For non-Indigenous Australians, the top three causes are lung cancer, followed by bowel and prostate cancer (in males),’ Mr Harvey said.

Professor Zorbas said the report emphasised the important work that needs to be undertaken to address the disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

‘The findings of this report underscore the continuing action needed in health promotion, research and health service delivery to best meet the cancer prevention and treatment needs of Indigenous Australians,’ Professor Zorbas said.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Cancer Australia provides national leadership in cancer control to improve outcomes for those affected by cancer their families and carers.

Further information:

Cancer Australia: Mr Simon Thomas, tel. (02) 9357 9401 or 0438 209 833

AIHW: Mr Justin Harvey, tel. (02) 6249 5057

For media copies of the report: 02 6249 5048/02 6249 5033 or email

View the report: Cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia: an overview