Cancer prevalence is defined in this report as the number of people alive who have had a diagnosis of cancer during a specified period of time. Prevalence is determined by two other indictors in the NCCI Framework – incidence (the number of new cases of cancer) and survival (the observed number of cancer survivors).1
Notes• Data sourced from the AIHW Australian Cancer Database 2014.
• The chart shows the number of people diagnosed in 2010–2014 who were still alive at the end of 2014 per 100,000 population.
• The rates given for specific age groups are age-specific rates. The rates given for 'Total' are age-standardised rates using the 2001 Australian Standard Population.
About this measure
Prevalence is an important high-level population-health indicator of the burden of cancer. It would include the number of people undergoing treatment, follow-up care, and/or ongoing cancer monitoring, and therefore can be interpreted as a potential service load.2.3
Cancer prevalence can be expressed as an absolute number, or as a rate (e.g., as the number per 100,000 population), or as a proportion for comparisons between groups. Five-year prevalence is used as a prevalence indicator in this report, as measured for the end of 2016. That is, prevalence figures refer to the number of people diagnosed in the period between 1 January 2012 and 31 December 2016 who were alive at the end of 2016.
Between January 2012 and December 2016, 456,978 Australians were diagnosed with cancer and were still alive at the end of 2016. Prostate cancer had the highest five-year prevalence in this period (88,778 males) followed by female breast cancer (76,639 females), melanoma of the skin (60,356 persons), and colorectal cancer (54,911 persons).
Five-year prevalence rates were higher among males due to higher incidence of cancer among males than females in older age groups (55 years and over). For example, for people who have received a cancer diagnosis in the years 2012-2016 (653,238 persons), 31% were males aged 65–74 years compared with a corresponding 24% of females. Of these men aged 65–74 years, 35% had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. The female prevalence rate was higher than the corresponding male rate among those aged 45–54 years, totalling over 56% of the persons diagnosed with cancer for that age bracket. Of these women aged 45–54, 43% were diagnosed with breast cancer.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
For those parts of Australia where data were available, 1.6% of all cancer cases diagnosed for this period affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons.3 The disparity in five-year prevalence rates varied by cancer type, however. Five-year prevalence rates for cancers of the lung, liver, head and neck (including lip), oesophagus, uterus, and cervix, pancreas, and unknown primary site were higher among Indigenous Australians, while corresponding prevalence rates for cancers of the bladder, colon, colorectal, melanoma of the skin, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, ovary, prostate and female breast were higher among non-Indigenous Australians.
Remoteness and Socioeconomic Status (SES)
Five-year prevalence rates for all cancers combined were similar across areas classified by socioeconomic status and remoteness, with the exception of Remote and Very Remote areas which had the lowest prevalence rates for both males and females, and SES 5 areas with which had higher prevalence rates.
There are some noticeable variations in five-year prevalence rate by cancer type. For example, although overall prevalence numbers were relatively low for head and neck cancer (including lip), five-year prevalence rates were much higher for males than females amongst all SES quintiles and Remoteness areas, and were higher among males in the lowest SES areas (SES 1, 111.6 males per 100,000 persons) than among those in the highest SES areas (SES 5, 74.9 males per 100,000 persons).
Detailed data on trends in prevalence are not available. For all cancers combined, a combination of increasing incidence and increasing survival has led to an increase in five-year prevalence.2
About the data
This measure shows five-year “limited duration” prevalence measured at the end of 2016 where these data are available. Figures refer to the numbers of people diagnosed in the period between January 2012 and December 2016 who were still alive at the end of 2016.
Numerator: number of living people who were diagnosed with cancer in the past five years to 31 December 2016.
Denominator: total estimated resident population (ERP).
Australian incidence data are age-standardised directly to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001 and are expressed per 100,000 population.
‘All cancers combined' comprises ICD-10 codes C00–C96, D45–D46, D47.1 and D47.3 except basal and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin (part of C44).
Data are sourced from the Australian Cancer Database (ACD) 2017. Detailed information on the ACD is provided in the ‘About the Data’ tab of the NCCI indicator: Cancer incidence.
Five-year prevalence for 2004, 2007 and 2012 are sourced from published figures in:
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2010. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2010. Cancer series no. 60. Cat. no. CAN 56. Canberra: AIHW.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries 2012. Cancer in Australia: an overview, 2012. Cancer series no. 74. Cat. no. CAN 70. Canberra: AIHW.
- AIHW 2017. Cancer in Australia 2017. Cancer series no. 101. Cat. no. CAN 100. Canberra: AIHW.
Refer to Appendix F of Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: period estimates from 1982 to 2010 for more detailed methodological information about cancer prevalence.2
- Data shown for 'Indigenous', 'Non-Indigenous', and 'Total' are for NSW, Qld, Vic, WA and the NT only, as the information on Indigenous status in these jurisdictions is considered to be of sufficient consistency for reporting.
- The data contains estimates of incidence for the Northern Territory in 2017, death-certificate-only cases for New South Wales in 2017, and estimates for late registrations for Australia in 2017 and the Northern Territory in 2016. Estimated records are not included in the case counts presented. For data disaggregated by residential remoteness and socioeconomic status, approximately 0.25% of records were excluded from the analysis because geographical information was not available.
- Records with unknown age at diagnosis are included in the counts but were excluded from the calculation of rates.
- Disaggregation by residential remoteness area is based on a hierarchical approach where a person’s 2016 ASGS Statistical Area Level 1 (SA1) then Level 2 (SA2) of usual residence at time of diagnosis is used. 2011 ASGS SA2 are used for records registered in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. The accuracy of these classifications decreases over time due to changes in infrastructure within SA1/SA2 boundaries since 2016.
Activity in this area
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: period estimates from 1982 to 2010. Cancer series. No 69. Cat. no. CAN 65. Canberra: AIHW.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Cancer in Australia: an overview 2021. Cancer series. No 90. Cat. no. CAN 88. Canberra: AIHW.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2021. Cancer Data in Australia. Canberra: AIHW. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-data-in-australia/
1.National Cancer Institute. Cancer Prevalence. Available from: http://seer.cancer.gov/statistics/types/prevalence.html [accessed February 2020]
2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. Cancer survival and prevalence in Australia: period estimates from 1982 to 2010. Cancer series. No 69. Cat. no. CAN 65. Canberra: AIHW.
3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. Cancer in Australia: an overview 2021. Cancer series. No 90. Cat. no. CAN 88. Canberra: AIHW.