What is known?
Using data from the Australian Childhood Cancer Registry, we have previously observed lower rates of cancer diagnosed in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, but also poorer survival rates, when compared to other Australian children. Following recent improvements in the completeness and accuracy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identification in health records, it is important to re-examine these estimates and investigate any changes over time.
What is new?
Between 1997 and 2016, there was a 54% increase in the incidence rate of cancer amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (compared to 12% for other Australian children). However, because cancer incidence was initially much lower among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, their rate of cancer still remained below the rate for other Australian children by the end of the study period.
Five-year survival rates were found to be similar for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and other Australian children for blood cancers (leukaemia and lymphoma) and brain tumours, but not for those diagnosed with other types of childhood cancer combined. However, there was evidence to suggest that the difference in survival for children with other types of cancer had diminished in the most recent time period.
What does this mean?
The greater increase in cancer incidence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children is consistent with improvements in reporting, rather than being the result of disproportionate growth in cancer rates compared to other Australian children.
Culturally appropriate solutions may be required to further improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with cancer, particularly for solid tumours.
Contact: Danny Youlden
Reference: Youlden DR, Baade PD, McBride CA, Pole JD, Moore AS, Valery PC, Young A, Aitken JF. Changes in cancer incidence and survival among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia, 1997-2016. Pediatric Blood & Cancer. 2021. doi: 10.1002/pbc.29492:e29492.