Quantifying the number of cancer deaths that would be avoided if tumours were diagnosed at a less advanced stage in New South Wales, 1985-2014

descriptive epidemiology

What is known?

In recent decades, Australia and other developed countries have experienced substantial improvements in the survival rate amongst cancer patients.

The two most likely reasons for this are early diagnosis and improved treatment, or a combination of both.

While most population-based cancer registries don’t collect information about the stage of diagnosis, the New South Wales Cancer Registry does collect a broad range of information about the spread of disease at diagnosis.

We have used this information to estimate the number of cancer deaths (within 10 years of diagnosis) that could have been avoided if all of the advanced (cancer that had spread to a distant part of the body) cancer cases were instead diagnosed at a less advanced stage.

What is new?

The study reviewed 700,000 people in New South Wales (aged between 15 and 89) who were diagnosed with an invasive solid cancer from 1985 to 2014.

About one in six solid cancers were known to have been diagnosed at advanced stage.

Of the approximately 30,000 solid cancers diagnosed per year between 2005 and 2014, it is estimated that if the advanced stage cancers had instead been diagnosed at a regional stage (cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or organs), an average of 2064 cancer deaths (within 10 years of diagnosis) could have been avoided each year, or around 21% of actual cancer deaths.

Alternatively, if 50% of the known distant/advanced cases were instead diagnosed as localised, and the other 50% were instead diagnosed as regional – the average number of deaths avoided per year would increase to 2,677, or around 28% of actual cancer deaths.

What does this mean?

While prevention remains the most effective method of cancer control, this study highlights the importance and benefit of diagnosing solid cancers when they are less advanced to reduce the burden of cancer mortality.

These results should hopefully motivate efforts to increase participation in recognised screening programs and increase awareness of the signs of early cancer.

Contact: Paramita Dasgupta

Reference: Yu XQ*, Dasgupta P*, Baade P. Quantifying the absolute number of cancer deaths that would be avoided if cancers were diagnosed prior to progressing to distant metastasis, New South Wales, Australia 1985-2014. International Journal of Cancer. 2022. doi: 10.1002/ijc.33931. *Authors contributed equally.

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