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More work needed to close the Aboriginal health gap on cancer

Thursday 17 March, 2016


Aboriginal people in Victoria have a higher chance of dying from cancer than other Victorians, Cancer Council Victoria data shows, highlighting the need for ongoing efforts to reduce this unfair burden on the community.

On Close the Gap Day, data from the Victorian Cancer Registry shows that:

  • Each year among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians, more than 110 new cancers are diagnosed and there are more than 50 cancer-related deaths.
  • Overall cancer incidence does not vary significantly between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Victorians, however Aboriginal Victorians have higher rates of certain cancers - particularly cervical and lung cancers.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to die of cancer than other Victorians.


Higher mortality rates among Aboriginal Victorians may be associated with diagnoses occurring at a more advanced stage of the disease. They may also reflect problems around timely access to treatment for Aboriginal Victorians, and lower participation in screening programs.

Cancer Council Victoria's program manager for Aboriginal Cancer Prevention, Brad Brown, said besides giving up smoking, screening for bowel, cervical and breast cancers was one of the most important things that Aboriginal people could do to protect their health.

"The vast majority of breast, bowel and cervical cancers can be prevented by screening and most tests have little to no cost," Mr Brown said.

"Even if you feel well, regular screening is important because these cancers can develop without symptoms."

Mr Brown said more work was also needed to bring down the smoking rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with 42 per cent of those aged 15 years and over smoking daily. This is about three times the rate of the total population.

"As the cause of one in five Indigenous deaths, tobacco is a major contributor to the health gap. It's vital that we work to stop our young people taking up smoking, and support existing smokers to quit," Mr Brown said.

"The good news is that we are seeing decreases in daily smoking rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - from 49 per cent in 2002 to 42 per cent today - showing that we can make a difference by working in partnership with communities."

Cancer Council Victoria chief executive Todd Harper said: "It's unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are dying 10 to 17 years younger than other Australians.

"At Cancer Council Victoria, we support the Close the Gap campaign and are dedicated to reducing the impact of cancer on Victoria's Aboriginal community."

For further information about Cancer Council Victoria's work in this area, visit