Wealth and remoteness driving factors for head and neck cancer disparities

Queenslanders living in affluent or metro areas are less likely to be diagnosed and die from head and neck cancer than those in disadvantaged or rural communities, new research shows.

The latest data from Cancer Council Queensland’s Cancer Registry released for World Head and Neck Cancer Day (July 27), found that from 2010 to 2014, incidence rates of head and neck cancer ranged from 14 cases per 100,000 in the urban south-east corner of the state, to 20 cases per 100,000 in remote areas.

Similarly, incidence rates in affluent areas were around 11 cases per 100,000 people, and up to 19 cases per 100,000 in disadvantaged areas.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Ms Chris McMillan said greater awareness of prevention measures across the state was critical.

“These findings clearly demonstrate that as a community we must do more to raise awareness and ensure Queenslanders have the best possible prospects for preventing and beating head and neck cancers,” Ms McMillan said.

“In Queensland more than 740 people are diagnosed with head and neck cancer each year and around 250 people die from the disease.

“Those living rurally or remotely, and in disadvantaged communities, are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease – a trend that will continue unless we take greater action to raise individual and community awareness.

“Alcohol and tobacco consumption are the biggest risk factors for head and neck cancers – with up to 75 per cent of head and neck cancers caused by a combination of smoking and alcohol.

“This should come as a warning to individuals. Significantly reducing your risk is as simple as limiting alcohol intake, quitting smoking and also maintaining a healthy diet.

“Head and neck cancers occur inside the sinuses, nose, mouth and throat, and salivary glands.

“These place a significant burden on our state, our communities and our families – it’s vital that we reduce our risk where possible.”

Ms McMillan said while community wealth and remoteness were associated with the risk of being diagnosed with head and neck cancer, they were also reflective of survival outcomes.

“The statistics are sobering. Compared to people living in urban areas, the excess mortality caused by head and neck cancers is 30 per cent higher in outer regional areas, and 130 per cent higher in remote areas,” Ms McMillan said.

“Excess mortality rates due to head and neck cancer in more disadvantaged areas are around one third higher than in affluent areas.

“Men are around three times more likely than women to develop head and neck cancer and have an equally high risk of dying from the disease.”

Ms McMillan urged Queenslanders to be aware of the symptoms of head and neck cancers this week, to aid with early diagnosis.

“Possible symptoms of head and neck cancer include a sore throat, voice changes, or lumps in the neck area,” Ms McMillan said.

“Symptoms depend on the site but can also include pain, swelling, developing a hoarse voice, difficulty swallowing and bad breath.

“These symptoms may also be caused by less serious conditions, however people who experience any of these symptoms should talk to their GP straight away.”

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

For more information or interviews, please contact:
Laura McKoy,
Media Manager,
Cancer Council Queensland
Phone: (07) 3634 5345
Mobile: 0409 001 171