Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Trends in Cancer Mortality during the 20th Century in Australia

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Trends in Cancer Mortality during the 20th Century in Australia

Article excerpt


An epidemiological study was conducted, using annual cancer mortality data over the period 1907 to 1998, to explore change in Australian cancer mortality. A 3-year moving average mortality was calculated to minimise the annual fluctuations over the study period. The results suggested that overall cancer mortality rose slightly over the past century, with a small decrease in more recent years. The male and female cancer mortality rates diverged over time. Younger age groups had low and stable death rates, 35-59 years age groups demonstrated decreased rates, and older age groups had increased rates over the study period. Modifiable lifestyle factors and other possible reasons for the changes were explored.

Aust Health Rev 2007: 31(4): 557-564

What is known about the topic?

Cancer contributes to a large number of deaths in Australia.

What does this paper add?

This paper documents the trends in cancer mortality during the 20th century, highlighting increasing mortality until the late 1990s. The authors suggest possible explanations for the increasing mortality rates for lung cancer seen during this time period, as well as for the other significant cancers for both males and females.

What are the implications for practitioners?

The authors conclude that many factors contributed to the changes in Australian cancer mortality over the 20th century, including behavioural, environmental, dietary, and socioeconomic factors as well as relevant health education and promotion campaigns, medical progress, interventions and the knowledge of causation. The authors suggest the need for policy makers to continue targeting high-risk groups in regard to cancer prevention, as well as investing in ongoing broad spectrum campaigns.

ABOUT 22.4 MILLION people around the world were living with cancer in 2000,12 with 10.1 million people newly diagnosed that year. In the same year 6.2 million people were killed by cancer.1 In Australia, about 459 000 people were diagnosed with new cases of cancer in 2000.3 The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that cancer was the second largest cause of death in Australia in 2001, with 29% of total deaths.4 Cancer was responsible for 19% of the disease burden and attributed to 30% of years of life lost due to premature mortality in Australia in 1996.5

There has been an "epidemiologic transition" for disease distribution6 in the developed world including Australia. This transition indicates the change from the "age of pestilence and famine," in which human mortality rates were dominated by infectious diseases, to the current age of morbidity and "mortality from degenerative, man-made, and stress-related diseases in which mortality from chronic diseases predominates".6 The research into chronic diseases, including cancers, may be more significant in view of the fact that Australia's population is ageing. This paper examines change in cancer mortality in Australia from 1907 to 1998, reviews the periods of decline, increase and stagnation, and gives possible explanations for the variations. The objectives were to examine the long-term trend of cancer mortality, to explore possible influencing factors, and to provide suggestions to policy makers and the local community for cancer prevention.

Mortality, routinely collected worldwide, is recognised as one of the finest indicators of health, or ill health, in the general population. Death rates are said to give insight into changing social and environmental conditions, medical interventions, lifestyles, and trends in underlying risk factors, and can reflect circumstances surrounding the time of death.3


Sources of data

Mortality data

Annual data on deaths from all cancers (140-208 in the International classification of diseases, injuries and causes of death, ninth revision, [ICD-9]) from 1907-1998, were provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), broken down by age (5-year group) and sex. …

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