Breast, bowel survival gap significant in small areas

A new study into breast and bowel cancer across nearly 500 small areas in Queensland has found no reduction in the survival gap between areas in over a decade.

The joint Cancer Council and QUT research is the first of its kind, examining changes in breast and bowel cancer survival across 478 geographical areas in Queensland over a period of 11 years (2001-2011).

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said breast and bowel cancer were two of the most common cancers diagnosed in Queensland, with survival varying across small areas.

“All 478 Statistical Local Areas we examined showed survival improvements between 2001-2003, and 2008-2011,” Ms Clift said.

“Despite the improvements, Queenslanders diagnosed with breast and bowel cancer in some small areas, and often particularly in more remote areas, still have lower survival.

“The high proportion of women diagnosed with advanced cancer in remote areas contributes substantially to survival differentials for breast cancer.

“Lower bowel cancer survival might be influenced by less experienced surgeons in more remote areas, among other reasons.

“More research is needed to further understand these survival gaps, and address these inequalities.

“We also need more Queenslanders to participate in recommended screening for breast and bowel cancer – to help detect the disease early.”

QUT Professor Kerrie Mengersen said the findings were significant and would not have been possible without collaboration between researchers at Cancer Council Queensland and QUT.

“By working together we have developed methods that allow us to identify these patterns and these findings will have impact on health services and populations in small and remote areas,” said Professor Mengersen, also a deputy director and chief investigator at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers.

She said the study found the improvement in five-year relative survival for localised breast cancer in Queensland was small (1.8 per cent), compared to advanced breast cancer (nearly five per cent).

“Similar improvements over time were found for bowel cancer, with five-year relative survival increasing by 2.6 per cent for localised and five per cent for advanced cancers,” Professor Mengersen said.

Ms Clift said improvements in non-diagnostic factors, including patient treatment and management, were likely to be key contributors to the recent survival increases for breast and bowel cancers.

“Strategies such as telehealth, which have the potential to remove the barriers of distance for both the clinician and patient, may be an option to help reduce the survival gap,” Ms Clift said.

“Cancer Council is committed to all Queenslanders, all cancers – offering vital support, and resources to patients and carers in need, no matter where they live.”

Around 3300 Queenslanders are diagnosed with breast cancer every year, and about 2900 will be diagnosed with bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in Queensland, with more than 1000 people dying from the disease every year.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available at or Cancer Council’s 13 11 20.

The paper has been published in the journal Spatial and Spatio-temporal Epidemiology.


For more information or interviews, please contact:
Katie Clift,
Executive Manager,
Media and Spokesperson,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5372
Mobile: 0409 001 171