Study examines cancer survival statistics for Indigenous Australians

Cancer Council Queensland is calling for enhanced joint efforts to improve Indigenous cancer control this Close the Gap day (tomorrow, Thursday 19 March), following the release of research findings that cancer survival is lower for Indigenous than non-Indigenous Australians for all cancers combined, and for many specific types of cancer.

The study, conducted by Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University and Cancer Council Queensland is one of the first to examine national cancer survival statistics for Indigenous Australians.

The findings reveal the disparity in survival rates is greatest immediately after diagnosis, greater for remote residents compared to metropolitan and greater for younger than older people.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said cancer care for Indigenous Australians needed significant improvement.

“This report shows a need for cancer diagnosis, treatment and support services to become more readily accessible and relevant to Indigenous communities,” Ms Clift said.

“There are a range of potential reasons for lower survival among Indigenous Australians, including social, educational, economic and environmental circumstances.

“Indigenous people are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced cancer, with poorer prospects for effective treatment and survival, and are less likely to complete treatment.

“Our research also found remoteness was associated with lower survival – death rates for Indigenous Australians were 65 per cent higher in very remote areas compared to major cities.

“Cancer survival for all Australians was lower for residents of rural and remote areas compared to urban areas, and this disparity was much greater for Indigenous people.”

The research also highlighted improvements in cancer survival over time, although survival gains for Indigenous Australians have not matched the rate of improvement for non-Indigenous Australians.

“There was an 11 per cent improvement in cancer survival between 1991 and 2005 for Indigenous Australians, compared to a 28 per cent improvement for non-Indigenous Australians,” Ms Clift said.

“Among Indigenous cancer patients, survival has only improved for those living in remote areas – cancer survival did not improve for urban Indigenous residents in the time period surveyed.

“More research is needed into the Indigenous cancer survival gap, so that we can identify contributing factors and identify ways of addressing them.

“All levels of government, health services, non-government organisations and the community must work together to help improve Indigenous cancer control in Australia.”

The details of about 1.2 million Australians diagnosed with invasive cancer between 1991 and 2005 were included in the study, around 7000 were identified as Indigenous.

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