Australia’s Most Deadly Cancers

Lung, rectum, and prostate cancer are Australia’s most dangerous cancers, new data reveals.

A study by Globocan shows that although lung, rectum, and prostate cancer rank 5th, 8th, and 3rd in incident rates, they have the highest chance of killing Australians.

Using World Health Organisation data, the study calculates that lung cancer was fatal in nearly 9,000 of its 13,000 new cases in 2018, contributing to 20 per cent of all cancer deaths during the year.

Lung cancer had a mortality rate of 70 per cent, rectum cancer 75 per cent, and prostate cancer 18 per cent.

By comparison there were nearly 60,000 new non-melanoma skin cancer cases, but only about 800 were fatal.

Breast cancer killed in 3,000 of 18,500 cases – about 16 per cent.


Lung, rectum, and prostate cancer are together expected to see almost 100,000 new cases in the next five years – potentially killing nearly 35,000 Australians.

Overall in 2018 the study calculated 198,000 new cancer cases, 49,500 of which resulted in death.

Globocan estimates close to 300,000 cancer incidences and over 85,000 cancer deaths in Australia by the year 2040 – of those, 15,000 are to be from lung cancer.

Cancer Australia says lung cancer is chiefly caused by smoking cigarettes.

Australians have among the lowest smoking rate in the world, with about 1 per cent of adolescents and fewer than 15 per cent of adults smoking daily.

Nevertheless, Dr Maarit Laaksonen, senior research fellow at the University of New South Wales, said that the prevalence of smoking needs to continue to decrease and that most lung cancers are preventable through a healthy lifestyle.

“More than three out of four lung cancers are caused by ever smoking,” she said.

“Current smoking is responsible for more than half of lung cancers and past smoking for nearly a quarter.”


A different study published in August in the British Medical Journal called Productivity burden of smoking in Australia estimated that over the course of the lives of current Australian smokers, the habit will cost the country more than 3.1 million years of life and its economy $388 billion due to illness and death.

Council’s Tobacco Issues Committee said the study should “add economic urgency to the need to do more to reduce the terrible social and individual cost of smoking in Australia”.

To help prevent cancers generally, Cancer Australia recommends not smoking, eating two serves of fruit and five serves of vegetables daily, limiting alcohol to two standard drinks a day, taking 150 minutes of exercise a week, and taking sun protection measures.


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