Geographical and spatial disparities in the incidence and survival of rare cancers in Australia

descriptive epidemiology

What is known?

Rare cancers include many individual cancer types that are typically diagnosed among a very small number of people. This means that their diagnosis and treatment are often complex and require specialist care. However, when combined together, they can have a substantial health impact on those affected.

What is new?

This is the first study reporting how the incidence of rare cancer types, and their subsequent survival, varied by small geographical areas across Australia. We used data from the eight population-based cancer registries in Australia over the period of 2007 to 2016.

We found that rare cancers collectively accounted for 22% of all invasive cancer diagnoses, and 27% of all cancer-related deaths in Australia. That is, more than 1 in 5 cancers diagnosed was a rare cancer type.

Overall five-year survival was relatively low (around 53%). There was substantial evidence that the incidence and survival varied markedly between small geographical areas across Australia, with similar patterns so that those areas with higher incidence tended to have lower survival. People living in areas that were more remote or more disadvantaged generally also had higher incidence but lower survival.

What does this mean?

Since treatment for rare cancer types requires specialist care found in major cities, the logistical challenges to more effective diagnosis and treatment for people living in rural and disadvantaged areas need to be addressed. These results may provide motivation to better understand why these geographical patterns exist, and thus inform the development of strategies to achieve improved outcomes for all Australians diagnosed with a rare cancer type.

Contact: Paramita Dasgupta

Reference: Dasgupta P, Cameron JK, Cramb S, Trevithick R, Aitken JF, Mengersen K, Baade PD. Geographical and spatial disparities in the incidence and survival of rare cancers in Australia. International Journal of Cancer. 2022. doi: 10.1002/ijc.34395.

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