About 61,000 Australian lives have been saved by improvements in cancer prevention, screening and treatment over the past 20 years, according to new Cancer Council research released today.
The Cancer Council study* compared recent** cancer deaths with the late 1980s, showing the largest reductions in deaths across all types of cancer were for lung, bowel and breast cancers, and an overall reduction of about 30 per cent in cancer deaths.
Annual lung cancer deaths have fallen by 2,154 compared with what we could have expected if late-1980s trends had continued. There were also 1,797 less bowel cancer deaths, and 773 less breast cancer deaths.
Associate Professor Freddy Sitas, lead researcher from Cancer Council NSW said, “This report clearly highlights that the combined advances in cancer prevention, research and treatment are working and saving lives, and we expect about 8,000 deaths to be avoided each year if current advances in cancer are maintained.
“The significant fall in expected lung cancer deaths reflects a big drop in the number of male smokers.
“But, unfortunately, we have seen a small increase in the number of women who die from lung cancer and this can largely be attributed to the increase in women smoking up until the 1970s. Further reductions in smoking rates will see more lives saved from lung cancer.
“Reductions in expected bowel and breast cancer deaths are likely due to significant improvements in early detection and treatment,” Associate Professor Sitas added.
“The national breast screening program, introduced from the late 1980s and rolled out in the years following, has played a vital role in saving lives. Applying this success to a full roll out of the bowel screening program could further reduce bowel cancer deaths.”
However, the research revealed that some cancers have seen little improvements over the last 20 years, prompting a call for more research and investment into these cancers and continued focus on improving cancers to sustain the advances we have already seen.
Cancer types with the smallest improvements over 20 years include cancer of the brain (148 fewer deaths), pancreatic (69 fewer deaths), and oesophagus (64 fewer deaths).
“Brain, pancreatic and oesophagus cancers are amongst the most globally underfunded and that is why Cancer Council has boosted our research investment into all three of these cancer types.
“Yet we can do better in all cancer types, because prevention and detection programs have not reached their potential. With more research we can also improve treatment outcomes.”
While lung, bowel and breast cancers had the biggest reductions in number of actual deaths avoided, they remained in the top four causes of cancer death, because they are prevalent and increase in incidence as we age. Other factors that can increase risk include obesity, a known bowel and breast cancer risk factor."