Surge in cancer prevalence in Western Australia over past 20 years

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A new study has found the prevalence of cancer in Western Australia has jumped more than 250% since 1992, with 87,000 people now living in WA who have at some time in the past been told “you have cancer”.

In the same period, WA’s population increased by 40%.

While in 2012 there were 4,002 cancers deaths in WA and 11,939 new cases of cancer diagnosed, it’s the ‘cancer prevalence’ figure that is not often quoted because it’s a difficult figure to calculate.

Cancer Council WA’s Director of Education and Research, Terry Slevin, said the dramatic increase highlights how important it is to understand and estimate the level of need for health services that is created by the growing cancer burden.

“From 1998 to 2011, the number of hospital bed days occupied by cancer patients increased by 80%, while in that period the population increased by 30%” Mr Slevin said.

“This data tells us that more people are getting cancer, and that suggests more work is needed on prevention.”

Mr Slevin said it also means more people are surviving cancer longer with cancer, and that has implications for the health care system.

“One issue that has been a constant concern to CCWA has been the need to train and employ more specialist cancer doctors to provide the ongoing care required by people living with cancer.”

“There is more work needed to better understand the impact of a cancer diagnosis on people’s use of and need for health care,” Mr Slevin said.

The study comes from a group at Curtin University who were commissioned by Cancer Council WA to bring together the data on the impact of cancer in WA.

It found that about a third of cancer patients who had their cancer diagnosis more than 10 years ago were still accessing cancer-related hospital services.

“We also know that the study is likely to substantially underestimate the number of people in WA with a past cancer diagnosis because it doesn’t include Non- Melanoma Skin Cancers (NMSC), as they’re so common that they’re not recorded by the Cancer Registry,” Mr Slevin said.

It’s estimated more than 75,000 NMSC lesions were treated in WA last year, more than six times the number of cancers that were reported to the cancer registry.

Cancer-related hospital services are also underestimated because radiotherapy is recorded as an outpatient service and as such isn’t captured in hospitalisation figures.

“The bottom line is that we need to ensure that our planning for health care service provision takes into account the growing demand for services for cancer patients,  and that includes having enough cancer doctors to provide the necessary care,” he said.

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