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Cancer rates found much higher in rural and remote areas

24 July, 2007

In rural and remote areas of Australia, lifestyle factors like excessive sun exposure, higher smoking rates and a tendency to postpone visits to the doctor, are driving up cancer rates, particularly for men, according to a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Dr Mark Short of the Institute's Health Registers and Cancer Monitoring Unit, said 'In 2001-2003 there was significantly higher incidence of melanoma (associated with sun exposure) and lung, head and neck, and lip cancers (associated with smoking) in rural and remote areas than in metropolitan areas.

"Men in rural and remote areas in particular, also had significantly higher rates of cancers diagnosed in advanced stages, which underscores the importance of getting regular health checks from their doctors to increase the likelihood of early detection of cancer,' he said.

In addition to highlighting these rural and remote lifestyle risks, the report, Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2006, showed that prostate cancer has overtaken colorectal cancer as the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia.

The main tests for this cancer are a digital rectal examination by a GP and the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA testing increased by 42% between 2001-2002 and 2005-06, from 492,147 to 698,828 tests, and as a result, the number of cases of prostate cancer diagnosed has increased from 12,000 in 2002 to an estimated 18,700 in 2006.

'Annual growth in the male population aged 65 and over (around 2.8% a year) has also been a factor, as the average age of diagnosis occurs around 70 years,' said Dr Short.

The report presents comprehensive national data on cancer incidence and mortality. Other findings from the report include:

- In 2006 there were an estimated 106,000 new cases of cancer in Australia in 2006, a 34% increase in ten years, and 39,200 deaths, a 12% increase in ten years.
- The risk of a cancer diagnosis by age 85 is one in two for males and one in three for females.
- In 2004-05, 10% of all hospital admissions in Australia were cancer-related and the numbers increased by 4.5% a year from 2000-01 to 2004-05.
- In 2003 the most common cancers diagnosed, apart from non-melanoma skin cancer, were prostate cancer, colorectal cancer, breast cancer, melanoma and lung cancer.
- In the ten years from 1993 to 2003, the cancers which increased the most in number were thyroid cancer (106%), myeloma (44%), melanoma (41%), kidney cancer (39%) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (36%).
- Cervical cancer incidence declined by 41% and lung cancer incidence by 11%.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

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