Historical lift in life expectancy raises hope for cancer patients

A new study has found life expectancy for people diagnosed with cancer has increased significantly over time – and at a rate greater than life expectancy increases among the general population.

The study examined 1.2 million Australians diagnosed with cancer between 1990 and 2000, with a follow-up to the end of 2010.

The research found a significant decrease in loss of life expectancy for cancer patients over time for all cancers combined and for most individual types of cancers considered in the analysis.

Cancer Council Queensland spokesperson Katie Clift said researchers used statistical methods to estimate the difference between the life expectancy of the general population and those diagnosed with cancer.

“This research answers the question many Australians with cancer have: how much does my life expectancy change now that I have been diagnosed with the disease?” Ms Clift said.

“On average, Australians diagnosed with cancer in 2000 were projected to lose fewer years of life expectancy due to their cancer than those diagnosed in the early 1990s.

“This is encouraging – not only have cancer patients experienced an increase in life expectancy over time, but the increase has occurring at a greater rate of increase for life expectancy than has been experienced by the general population.

“Over the ten years of the study, the improvements translate to more than one year of added life expectancy between 1990 and 2000 among cancer patients, in addition to the increases in general population life expectancy over that time.

“Overall, the average loss of life expectancy burden for all cancers combined was 8.2 years.

“The greatest loss of life expectancy burden was for lung cancer (14.3 years lost per diagnosis) and lowest for melanoma (2.5 years).

“There are a range of reasons for these advancements, including improved cancer management, changes in the mix of cancers diagnosed over time, and better treatments as a result of ongoing medical and scientific research.

“When we looked at the information available on spread of disease, the overall improvement was restricted to those patients diagnosed with localised or regional cancers but was not seen in those with advanced cancers, findings which reinforce the importance of early diagnosis.”

The results also demonstrate the very high burden cancer has on the national community.

The study estimated that the over 800,000 Australians diagnosed with cancer between 1990 and 2000 will lose more than six and a half million years of life expectancy.

“The observed reduction in loss of life expectancy should provide hope for patients and increased motivation for those involved in cancer care, support, research and policy,” Ms Clift said.

“We need continued efforts to reduce the burden of cancer in the Australian community.”

The study involved researchers from Cancer Council Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, Queensland Health, University of Sunshine Coast and Karolinska Institute.

More information about Cancer Council Queensland is available at cancerqld.org.au or 13 11 20.


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