Health report causes cancer concern

Health Minister Nicola Roxon says a 10 per cent spike in the number of cancer cases in Australia is a “worrying trend”.

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The latest biennial snapshot of the nation’s health, released on Wednesday, shows the number of cancer cases will rise to 115,000 this year.

Although fewer people are smoking, and cancer survival rates are improving, the disease still causes one in three deaths.

Cancer is Australia’s leading cause of disease burden, accounting for 19 per cent of the total burden, ahead of cardiovascular disease at 16 per cent, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report.

“There is a worrying trend that is in this report, which shows that this year we can expect 115,000 Australians to be diagnosed with cancer,” Ms Roxon told reporters in Canberra.

“That is a 10 per cent increase from 2006 – a very big jump.”

Ms Roxon said governments had to continue to reduce smoking rates and tackle the risk factors that are known to cause cancer.

“Cancer is an area where we have to continue the fight,” she said.

“The good news is our treatment is getting better and our survival rates are better.”

AIHW director Penny Allbon said the increase in cancer cases was partly due to earlier detection.

“That’s due to increased awareness and screening,” Dr Allbon told AAP.

“Beyond that, I don’t think anybody really knows why it’s on the increase.”

But she emphasised that even though the prevalence of the disease was going up, death rates were going down for most cancers.

“So it’s a mixed story.”

The AIHW report also found dementia rates are set to double within the next 20 years. The number of elderly dementia sufferers will jump to more than 450,000 by 2031.

The 12th biennial health report contains alarming findings about younger people, too.

It says the rate for chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection, has tripled during the past decade.

Rates of HIV and gonorrhoea have also climbed over the past 10 years, although they’ve stabilised recently.

Obesity levels are ballooning across all age groups, with 61 per cent of adults overweight.

Men are more likely than women to be fat, while one in four children aged between five and 17 are considered overweight.

Rising levels of obesity and less regular exercise are being blamed for the sharp increase in diabetes cases.

More than 800,000 Australians have the disease, triple the rate of 20 years ago.

But it’s not all bad news. Overall, Australians live longer than most people on the planet.

The nation ranked third in the world, behind Iceland and Japan, in 2007 for life expectancy.

Men live 79 years on average, while Australian women clock up just under 84 years.