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Cancer in Indigenous Australians: A review

CRCAH project no: IKCD117

Administering organisation
Menzies School of Health Research

Project leader
John Condon

Contact details

Team members
Joan Cunningham, Alice Rumbold and Xiahua Zhang

Partners involved

  • Menzies School of Health Research
  • Charles Darwin University
  • NT Department of Health and Family Services

This project is endorsed as an in-kind project of the CRCAH.

Project summary

Cancer has only recently been regarded as an important health issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Although other health problems might have more focus, cancer is the leading cause of death for Indigenous Australians, as for all Australians (17% and 30% of all deaths, respectively, in 2005). This project comprises a two-part series of reviews on cancer and its impact on Indigenous Australians.

The first review on cancer in Indigenous Australians reported the limited information published up to 2001, which related mostly to risk-factors, prevalence and mortality statistics. At the time, there was little information on cancer incidence, diagnosis, treatment and survival, or on time patterns in this population.

The second review provides an up-to-date assessment of cancer, including the demographic and socioeconomic context; patterns of incidence, mortality, treatment, and survival; key risk factors; screening participation; and the views of Indigenous people on cancer and cancer treatment.

Summary of outcomes

The reviews have strengthened the evidence base for improving prevention and control of cancer in Indigenous Australians. A more complete picture of cancer occurrence, causation, and control in Indigenous Australians can now be presented.

Key findings

The project found that:

  • Since the first review, there has been considerable improvement in the availability of information relevant to cancer control in Indigenous Australians.
  • Inadequate identification of Indigenous people in cancer registers precludes reporting for some parts of Australia.
  • National statistics on cancer in Indigenous Australians are still not available.
  • Sufficient information is now available to identify priorities and inform appropriate remedial action.

Main messages

The research indicates that:

  • There is a need for uniform guidelines to ensure the collection of appropriate information on Indigenous people suffering from cancer throughout Australia.
  • This information should feed into the regular publication of national statistics on cancer in Indigenous Australians.


The first review was published in 2003, and the second in 2008.


Cunningham, J., Rumbold, A., Zhang, X. & Condon, J. 2008, ‘Incidence, Aetiology, and Outcomes of Cancer in Indigenous Peoples in Australia’, Lancet Oncology, vol. 9(6), pp. 585–95.

Condon, J., Armstrong, B., Barnes, A. & Cunningham, J. 2003, ‘Cancer in Indigenous Australians: A review’, Cancer Causes and Control, vol. 14(2), pp. 109–21.

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Created: 03 May 2012 - Updated: 15 July 2012