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Brain cancer overtakes leukaemia as biggest cause of cancer death in children

World’s most up-to-date cancer statistics released.

More children are dying from brain cancer than leukaemia, despite leukaemia diagnoses being double that of brain cancer, a new report on the latest cancer trends by Cancer Council Victoria has revealed.

Since the 1980’s, leukaemia deaths have declined due to research that has improved the diagnosis and treatment of leukaemia, but incidence and mortality rates of brain cancer have remained stagnant.

More than 500 malignant brain tumours are diagnosed in Victoria each year with only 26 per cent of people surviving five years or more. The disease causes twice as many cancer deaths in children under 15 and young people under 29 years when compared with other cancers, yet survival has only increased three per cent since 2012.

The data were published today by the Victorian Cancer Registry as part of its publication, Cancer in Victoria: Statistics and Trends 2018, which contains the world’s most up-to-date cancer incidence and mortality information.

Victorian Cancer Registry Director, Professor Sue Evans said the report showed that cancer incidence is set to increase in the coming years.

“We estimate the average annual incidence of cancer will increase by 43 per cent by 2033 when compared with 2018. These increases are largely due to the growth and ageing of the Victorian population, but trends have shown when there is uptake in screening programs, cancer is detected earlier, and survival increases. We have also seen rising incidence of liver cancer, reflecting the increasing numbers of migrants from regions where chronic Hepatitis B and C are prevalent,” she said.

Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper said: “This report shows screening and prevention programs are working. More Victorians are taking part in screening programs and we have seen improvements in tobacco use and sun protection. These programs work and save lives.

We can also see that cervical cancer incidence remains low and could be eliminated in Victoria thanks to education, screening and vaccination programs.”

Professor Evans said the report identified areas to be prioritised to reduce the impact of cancer.

“There are approximately 1,200 brain tumours diagnosed in Victoria each year. Benign brain tumours may be less aggressive that malignant tumours, but they can have similar challenges because of their location and the potential risks of treatment.

“Brain cancer has few treatment options and low five-year survival. We need significant investment in dedicated research to improve outcomes for those affected, especially children,
who are statistically more at risk of this disease. Early reliable data helps to plan our cancer prevention, treatment and support services of the future. Victoria remains a leader in this regard.”

Cancer in Victoria: Statistics and Trends 2018 also reveals:

  • The five most common cancers in Victoria are prostate, breast, bowel, melanoma, and lung, collectively accounting for 57% of all new cancers and 46% of all cancer deaths.
  • In 2018, cancer deaths in Victoria resulted in the premature loss of over 64,000 years of life (to age 74). This is four times the number of years lost from other major causes of death such as ischaemic heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease.
  • Cervix cancer incidence declined rapidly following the introduction of the Pap screening program – now the majority of abnormalities are detected prior to progressing to an invasive cancer, and cervix cancer rates are stable.
  • Overall cancer survival continues to improve across the state. The latest five-year cancer survival is 69%, an increase from 66% in 2007-2011.
  • Cancers with the lowest survival remain liver (21%), lung (19%), cancer of unknown primary (12%), pancreas (10%) and mesothelioma (6%) - of these, survival increased significantly between 2007-2011 and 2012-2016 for cancers of the liver, lung and pancreas.
  • In most cases, incidence and mortality rates for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Victorians were more than double those of non-Aboriginal Victorians.

Mr Harper said that cancer survival was improving but for many less common cancers, survival remained low.

“Investment in prevention and research will be important to improve survival for people with these cancers,” he said.