Impact of cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of death across the world and accounted for an estimated 8.2 million deaths worldwide in 2012.17 The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that around 30% of cancer deaths are due to tobacco use, overweight and obesity, lack of physical exercise, diet and alcohol consumption.18 The World Cancer Report 2014 estimates that by 2025, over 20 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed every year.17

In Australia, the most common cancer is non-melanoma skin cancer, with an estimated 474,000 new cases diagnosed in 2012.19 However, two of the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are not required to be reported to cancer registries and national data are not routinely available.20 Therefore, data in this position statement relate primarily to invasive cancers and exclude non-melanoma skin cancers (unless otherwise specified).

The number of new cancer cases each year is increasing and it is estimated that in 2020, there will be approximately 150,000 new cases diagnosed in Australia.21 The most commonly diagnosed cancers in Australia are prostate, bowel, breast, melanoma of the skin and lung cancer, which together will account for an estimated 60% of all cases diagnosed in 2015.22 In 2015, there will be nearly 46,600 deaths due to cancer, accounting for 3 out of every 10 deaths in Australia.22 Lung, bowel, prostate, breast and pancreatic cancer will be the most common causes of cancer death, accounting for nearly half the total deaths due to cancer in 2015 in Australia.22

Cancer was estimated to be the leading cause of burden of disease in Australia in 2012 (see Appendix 2 for explanation).20 Together, tobacco, physical inactivity, high body mass index (BMI), alcohol, occupational exposures and hazards, low fruit and vegetable consumption, air pollution and unsafe sex have been estimated to account for one third of the total burden of cancer in Australia – the majority of burden being due to tobacco.23

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has identified smoking, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, diet and chronic infections as some of the risk factors relevant to cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.24 The AIHW report Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012 identified that people living in lower socioeconomic status areas are more likely to have higher levels of cancer and lifestyle risk factors, such as smoking, poor diet and physical inactivity.20 Although cancer incidence varies across geographical regions for different cancers, people living in remote areas of Australia are more likely to have higher rates of risky health behaviours, such as smoking, heavy alcohol use and poor nutrition.20