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Impact of cancer on Victorian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities revealed in Cancer Council report

Monday 23 November, 2020

The latest data showing the impact of cancer on Victorian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples has been released by Cancer Council Victoria, showing an average of 236 diagnoses per year.

The data has been released as part of the Cancer in Victoria: Statistics and Trends 2019 report from the Victorian Cancer Registry and is the world’s most up-to-date cancer incidence and mortality information for First Nations people anywhere in the world.

Todd Harper, CEO of Cancer Council Victoria, said the organisation works closely with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) within a framework of self-determination as articulated in the Victorian Government’s Korin Korin Balit-Djak: Aboriginal health, well-being and safety strategic plan 2017-2027.

“We look forward to working with VACCHO on recovery initiatives to encourage eligible community members to screen,” he said.

The report reveals that overall incidence rates were significantly higher for Victorian Aboriginal communities (561 and 497 new cases per 100,000 Aboriginal men and women respectively) than for non-Aboriginal Victorians (348 and 288 new cases per 100,000 non-Aboriginal men and women, respectively).

The most common cancers for Victorian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities were, as for Victorians of other descent, lung, breast, bowel and prostate cancer.

Mr Harper said the data provides vital information that will inform the organisation’s work in reducing the cancer burden on Victorian Aboriginal communities.

“With cancer mortality rates in Victorian Aboriginal communities more than twice those of other Victorians, we must continue to work to close the gap.

“Working with and having the Aboriginal community lead the planning, delivery and evaluation of cancer prevention and cancer support programs will assist to reduce the cancer incidence and mortality rates for Victorian Aboriginal communities, in the future” Mr Harper said.

VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO said Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander people experienced a higher burden of cancer with higher mortality rates.

“VACCHO understands the importance of including social and cultural elements that underpin Aboriginal health when developing health programs for Aboriginal communities,” she said.

“We continue to work with Aboriginal Communities and our 32 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) to support the delivery of cancer screening, early detection and prevention campaigns.

“A recent example includes the Beautiful Shawl Project, a collaborative, community-led initiative that provides a safe and empowering breast screening experience for Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander women.

“Working with 12 ACCOs across the state and local community artists, this project provided customised screening shawls to Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander women that were culturally appropriate, familiar, and beautiful to wear during their screening.”

There were 429 cancer deaths of Aboriginal Victorians in the five years 2014-2018 inclusive, an average of 86 deaths each year. Overall mortality rates were significantly higher for Aboriginal Victorians than for non-Aboriginal Victorians, likely reflecting lower access to screening and immunisation programs and later presentation of cancer at diagnosis, as well as a higher incidence of low survival cancers like lung cancer.

Sue Evans, Director of the Victorian Cancer Registry, said a special feature on cervical and liver cancer was included in the report, two cancers that are largely caused by infections and are, to a varying extent, preventable cancers.

“Rates of invasive cervical cancer in Aboriginal and /or Torres Strait Islander People are nearly double that of other Victorian women (13.3 vs 7.7 new cases per 100,000 people for the period 2014-18),” Ms Evans said.

“Liver cancer rates among Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander People are nearly three times higher (19.4 vs 5.4 new cases per 100,000). For both these cancers, these gaps are not reducing over time.”