Obesity emerges as major cancer risk factor for Victorians

Sunday 26 October, 2014
Report's cancer trends illustrate smoking decline, and obesity rise  

More Victorians are now at risk of being diagnosed with cancer because they are overweight or obese with Cancer Council Victoria naming this as a major cancer risk factor.

Data in the publication Cancer in Victoria: Statistics and Trends 2013 reveals that uterine cancer rates are steadily rising; a cancer for which obesity is a principal risk factor1. The report also indicates that lung cancer in Victorian women is plateauing after steady increases since the 1980s.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said cancer incidence in the state was projected to rise 43 per cent by 2024-2028 to more than 41,000 cases a year. Obesity is a risk factor for breast, bowel, oesophageal, pancreas, uterine, kidney, gallbladder and thyroid cancers.
"One in every three cancers can be prevented - but as we see some risk factors becoming less common among the population others are on the rise," Mr Harper said.

"For example, many Victorians are aware of the dangers of smoking, and the link between smoking and cancer - which is why we've seen such a rapid decline in smoking rates. At the same time we are seeing an equally rapid rise in the number of Victorians who are overweight or obese. We need the same awareness about this as a risk factor if we are to stop more cancers before they start."

The comments were made today at the Cancer Council's launch of the publication Cancer in Victoria: Statistics and Trends 2013.

The Victorian Cancer Registry report also reveals:

  • Remarkable improvements in breast cancer survival and decreases in mortality since breast screening began in Victoria in 1994. Five-year relative survival for a woman diagnosed with a stage 1 breast cancer today is now 100 per cent.
  • A record high for overall five-year cancer survival of 67 per cent2.
  • Significantly higher cancer mortality rates among Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples than non-Aboriginal Victorians. Access to timely treatment, late-stage diagnosis and low participation in cancer screening are all probable causes of the disparity.
  • The detection of prostate cancer in Victorian men is in rapid decline with incidence falling 25 per cent since reaching a peak in 2009.

Victorian Cancer Registry Director Helen Farrugia said recent changes to the way prostate cancer is detected were behind the decrease.

"The way we screen for prostate cancer is changing with the use of the Prostate Specific Antigen test reducing in recent years. This is a test that detects early asymptomatic cancers, often leading to the aggressive treatment of cancers that would not otherwise have come to medical attention."

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said the five most common cancers among Victorians were prostate, breast, bowel, lung and melanoma; together accounting for almost 60 per cent of new cases and half of cancer deaths.

"It is heartening to see that in Victoria five-year survival for all cancers has increased again and is now at 67 per cent. This upward trend reflects the earlier detection of cancers through screening programs, as well as a decrease in smoking rates and improvements in treatment," he said.

"However, it is important to acknowledge that survival varies dramatically between types of cancer. Last year, we lost another 11,000 Victorians to cancer, which is equivalent to 30 people each day. We must keep finding new and better ways to prevent cancer, treat cancer and continue to support those affected by it."

1. Around a third of uterus cancers in the United Kingdom are attributed to excess body weight, according to data published by Cancer Research UK. In Australia the experience is likely to be similar but comparable statistics are not yet available.

2. This is five-year relative survival, so 100 per cent survival does not mean that no deaths occur. It means that women diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer are no more likely to die than women of the same age in the general population.