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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin
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spacing1What do we know about cancer among Indigenous people?

What is known about cancer in the Indigenous population?

Cancer is a term used for a variety of diseases that cause damage to the body's cells (the basic building blocks of the body) [1][2]. Normally cells grow and multiply in a controlled way but cancer causes cells to grow and multiply in an uncontrolled way. If these damaged cells spread into surrounding areas or to different parts of the body, they are known as ‘malignant’ [1]. Cancer can occur almost anywhere in the body.

In 2004-2008, the overall rate of new cases (incidence rate) of cancer was slightly higher for Indigenous people than for non-Indigenous people [3]. Incidence rates varied depending on the type of cancer. Indigenous people had higher incidence rates than did non-Indigenous people for:

In 2004-2008, Indigenous people had lower incidence rates than did non-Indigenous people for:

The types of cancer that caused the most deaths among Indigenous people in 2007-2011 were lung cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer (for women), cancer of ‘unknown primary site’, and bowel cancer [3].

The fact that Indigenous people are more likely than non-Indigenous people to die from cancer could be because:


  1. Cancer Council Australia (2014) What is cancer?. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from
  2. Australian Cancer Research Foundation (2014) What is cancer?. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Cancer Australia (2013) Cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia: an overview. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
  4. Cunningham J, Rumbold AR, Zhang X, Condon JR (2008) Incidence, aetiology, and outcomes of cancer in Indigenous peoples in Australia. Lancet Oncology; 9(6): 585-595
Last updated: 25 September 2014
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