Breast cancer survival disparities consistent across Australia

Queensland researchers in collaboration with Cancer Australia have undertaken the nation’s first systematic review examining published evidence showing how breast cancer outcomes across the continuum of care varied for Australian women depending on where they lived.

The Cancer Council Queensland study, published in BMJ Open, found that regional women across Australia consistently faced lower survival rates for breast cancer, and had different patterns of care.

Cancer Council Queensland Head of Research Professor Joanne Aitken said women living in non-metropolitan areas continued to face stark inequalities to those living in metropolitan area.

“We found very consistent patterns across a range of research studies. Compared to metropolitan women, women living in non-metropolitan areas had lower survival, and were more likely to undergo a mastectomy rather than breast conserving surgery for early breast cancer,” Prof Aitken said.

“Women living in non-metropolitan areas were also less likely to undergo sentinel node biopsies, receive post-surgery radiotherapy or breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, compared to women living in metropolitan areas.

“Among other factors, poorer breast cancer survival reflects differences in stage at diagnosis, treatment and socioeconomic disadvantage.

“Factors contributing to differences in treatment include differential access to high-volume breast cancer surgeons, multidisciplinary care and radiotherapy outside major cities.

“This study highlighted the need to better understand inequalities in advanced breast cancer, treatment choices and follow-up care after treatment by residential area so that women can be provided with access to services of their choice to reduce the burden of the disease.”

In Australia, an estimated 18,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018.

While five-year relative survival is at 90 per cent, treatment choices can affect quality of life long after treatment has finished for cancer survivors.

“It’s vital that all women, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to access suitable treatment and care options that will improve quality of life long after treatment.”

Prof Aitken said the study also found a wide variation in study quality and terminology used, reinforcing the need to standardise geographical classifications across research studies to provide a stronger foundation for research studies and programs.

For more information about Cancer Council Queensland, visit or phone 13 11 20, Monday to Friday.

For more information or to arrange interviews with Prof. Joanne Aitken, please contact:

Laura McKoy,
Media Manager,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5345
Mobile: 0409 001 171