More Australians dying from cancer than heart diseases, new report from Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows

SYDNEY – Cancer has become Australia’s biggest killer, overtaking heart disease for the first time to take more lives than any other disease, a government health agency said in a report.

New data found despite coronary heart disease continuing to be nation’s leading single cause of death, cancer, as a group of diseases, killed more people in 2013 than any other disease type.

Cancer rates have increased since 1982 and the disease is now Australia’s biggest overall killer, with an estimated 130,000 new cases expected to be diagnosed in 2016.

However, more people are surviving, with the mortality rate having dropped 22 per cent since 1982.

The total number of deaths from cancer was 44,100 in 2013, the institute said, for the first time surpassing the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and stroke.

Lung cancer is Australia’s most common fatal cancer.

“People are now living long enough to get cancer in greater numbers,” said Professor Lisa Horvath, director of research at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse cancer hospital in Sydney. “Age is the biggest risk factor, apart from smoking, for getting cancer.”

‘We are living longer than ever before, death rates continue to fall, and most of us consider ourselves to be in good health.’ says AIHW Director and CEO Barry Sandison.

The report estimates that in 2016:

  • about 130,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in Australia (excluding basal and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin—which are the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer). More than half (55%) of these cases will be diagnosed in males
  • the risk of being diagnosed with any cancer before the age of 85 will be 1 in 2 for males and 1 in 3 for females
  • the most commonly diagnosed cancers in males will be prostate cancer (18,100 cases), colorectal cancer (9,810), melanoma of the skin (7,850), lung cancer (7,130) and head and neck cancers (3,430)
  • the most commonly diagnosed cancers in females will be breast cancer (15,900 cases), colorectal cancer (7,700), melanoma of the skin (5,440), lung cancer (5,070) and uterine cancer (2,650).

Australians continue to ignore basic health advice, says new national health report card

Indigenous Australians also fare much worse than non-indigenous on almost every health score, according to Australia’s Health 2016 report, compiled by the government’s Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, published every two years.

Cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke and heart failure, were the second leading cause of death, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The report found even though the prevalence of cancer was increasing, the chances of survival were also increasing.

If Australia had a population of just 100 people, 56 would rate their health as ‘excellent’, or ‘very good’ and 29 as ‘good’.

‘However, 19 of us would have a disability, 20 a mental health disorder in the last 12 months, and 50 at least one chronic disease.’

Australia's burden of disease, by disease group and sex, 2011

One in four Australians suffering from multiple chronic diseases

The report also said one-in-four Australians suffered from multiple chronic diseases, with chronic conditions representing the biggest burden to the nation’s health system.

“In 2014-15, based on self-reported data from the National Health Survey, more than 11 million Australians (50 per cent) had at least one of 8 selected chronic diseases: arthritis; asthma; back pain and problems; cancer; cardiovascular disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; diabetes; and mental health conditions,” the report said.

Most Australians say they are in good health but 50% have a chronic disease

Australians are smoking and drinking less but nearly two-thirds of us are overweight and half have a chronic disease.

While 85% of Australians rate their health as “good”, “very good”, or “excellent”, the majority do not eat enough vegetables, almost half do not do enough exercise and the proportion of overweight and obese adults is increasing.

The findings come from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) biennial report on the nation’s health released by the health minister, Sussan Ley.

The report found life expectancy rates were at a record high, with a boy born between 2012 and 2014 expected to live to 80.3 years and a girl to 84.4 years. But although they’re living longer, 50% of Australians are living with a chronic disease such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis, diabetes or a mental illness, while 25% are living with two or more chronic health conditions.

Health services in Australia

In Australia, health services are delivered by a mix of public and private providers that includes more than 1,300 hospitals and about 385,000 nurses, midwives and medical practitioners.

Of the $155 billion spent on health in 2013–14, $145 billion was recurrent expenditure. Hospitals accounted for 40% of recurrent expenditure ($59 billion), primary health care 38% ($55 billion), with the remaining 22% spent on other health goods and services. For the first time, the report examines how spending by age for people admitted to hospital has changed over time.

Mr Sandison said the health analysis showed that the largest increase in spending between 2004–05 and 2012–13 was for Australians aged 50 and over.