Lowitja Institute Program Leader Gail Garvey is part of a research team that has found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with cancer are 50 per cent more likely to die in the year following their diagnosis than other Australian cancer patients.
The large-scale study, which tracked the survival rates of 1819 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as part of a broader cohort of 150,059 Queenslanders who were diagnosed with invasive cancers between 1997 and 2006, also found that there was no difference in survival rates between the two groups once two years had passed since the original diagnosis.
While recent studies have highlighted the significantly lower survival rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cancer patients compared with other Australian cancer patients, it is the first study of its kind to identify that Australia’s disparity in cancer survival rates changes with time since diagnosis.
Associate Professor Garvey, who is based at the Menzies School of Health Research and is leading the Lowitja Institute’s cancer research activities, said the findings highlighted the unacceptable disparities in cancer survival outcomes, particularly in the first year after diagnosis.
‘This research provides a strong call to action to address the very wide disparity in cancer survival for Indigenous people in the first and second years after diagnosis,’ she said. ‘Our findings confirmed recent studies highlighting significant disparities in overall survival among Indigenous cancer patients compared to non-Indigenous patients.
‘However, the findings provide hope that with ongoing action the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cancer survival in the first two years post diagnosis can be closed.’
Lead author Associate Professor Peter Baade, a Senior Research Fellow at Cancer Council Queensland, said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are also more likely to be diagnosed at advanced stages for certain cancers, or receive less treatment, yet this did not completely explain the survival disadvantage.
‘Clearly a differential of up to 50 per cent in cancer survival within the first 12 months of diagnosis is not acceptable, and our findings increase the motivation for further efforts in this area,’ he said.
The research was a joint effort by the Menzies School of Health Research and Cancer Council Queensland, and the paper was published by the Medical Journal of Australia on 5 March 2012. It can be downloaded gratis at: www.mja.com.au/journal/2012/196/4.
Meanwhile, a study published in December 2011 in the online edition of the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology has shown that death rates from cancer have steadily decreased over the past 25 years in Australia while cancer incidence rates have risen. The research by the Australian Institute for Health and Welfare found that before the age of 85, one in two Australians will develop cancer and 1 in 5 will die from it. The article can be downloaded gratis at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajco.2011.7.issue-4/issuetoc.