Digital atlas shows Australian cancer trends

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A new online map of Australia’s cancer numbers has been launched to give people a better understanding of how the burden of the disease varies across the nation.

The Australian Cancer Atlas is an interactive resource that highlights how the 20 most common cancers are spread geographically.

A joint project between Cancer Council Queensland, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and research company FrontierSI, it shows national patterns in cancer incidence and survival rates in a country where an estimated 138,000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2018 – nearly triple the total in 1982.

The project is based on years of work by Cancer Council Queensland to better understand the difference in cancer prevalence between metropolitan and rural areas, and map the gaps linked to socio-economic status and other demographic factors.

“The atlas enables readers to easily visualise those differences and offers critical insight into patterns of cancer and outcomes in Australia, depending on where people live, which can be used to drive research and policies going forward,” the charity’s CEO Chris McMillan said.

The atlas shows that liver cancer rates are significantly higher than the national average in areas of Northern Australia and metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne. This is due to greater incidence of hepatitis, intravenous drugs use and excess alcohol consumption.

This graphic shows the rates of melanoma – dark blue is under the national average.

Melanoma rates are higher than the Australian average in many areas of Queensland and northern New South Wales.

However, local trends do not necessarily reflect individuals’ cancer risk, said Cancer Council Queensland’s head of research, Professor Joanne Aitken.

“Regardless of what is happening in our area – we should each feel empowered to reduce our cancer risk by not smoking, being SunSmart, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol intake, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and getting checked,” she said.

Nearly 70 percent of people with cancer in Australia are still alive five years after diagnosis, but the number who die before then is higher in rural and remote areas.

“There is still a long way to go to understand the reasons for all the geographic disparities but the atlas is designed to motivate and accelerate the pace of targeted research in areas that need it the most,” Cancer Council Queensland senior research fellow Professor Peter Baade said.

The regional estimates were calculated using sophisticated statistical models and spatial analyses, taking data from the Australian state and territory Cancer Council registries, and can be updated regularly using a state-of-the-art digital system developed at QUT.

“We believe the atlas will be an important resource, of benefit to all Australians, and hope it will drive policy and research so that we eliminate disparities across Australia in levels of cancer care, resourcing and survival,” QUT’s professor of statistics Kerrie Mengersen said.

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