Cancer is striking hard at Aboriginal people irrespective of whether they are in remote communities or more urbanised centres, according to a significant new study that paints a grim picture of cancer mortality for Aboriginal people across Australia.
The study by The Cancer Council NSW and University of NSW has found that cancer mortality across the NSW population is 62 per cent higher for Aboriginal than for non-Aboriginal people and that cancer is the second biggest killer of Aboriginal people. Presenting the results today to the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Melbourne, Cancer Council statistician, Rajah Supramaniam, said the study was the first to provide comprehensive data across a major population, putting to bed any suggestion that it was only remote Aboriginal communities in areas like the Northern Territory that had markedly worse cancer outcomes. “This study shows that Aboriginal people across NSW have far poorer outcomes when it comes to cancer than non-Aboriginal people, a finding that might translate to other populous states,” Mr Supramaniam said. “It is a wake up call that cancer is second only to circulatory diseases as the largest killer of Aboriginal people, yet is rarely mentioned as a health priority.” According to Mr Supramaniam, in a number of cancers the disparity in mortality is even greater. Deaths from lung cancer are 50 per cent higher in Aboriginal males and 100% higher in females. Deaths from cervical and kidney cancer are more than three times that of non-Aboriginal people. Mr Supramaniam said the reasons behind such a huge disparity were still not clear. “Later diagnoses, poorer prognosis cancers and poorer treatment outcomes for Aboriginal people are all likely to be contributors,” he said. “What we are also seeing is that as we do better with infectious disease in childhood and Aboriginal people are living longer, they are contracting more chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.” Mr Supramaniam said that by far the most preventable cancer was tobacco related cancer, with Indigenous smoking rates in excess of the general population. Breast and cervical cancer deaths could also be addressed by increased attendance to screening programs.(Source: Cancer Council: Clinical Oncological Society of Australia Conference: November 2006.)