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spacing1What do we know about cancer among Indigenous people?

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 [2]. Cancer can occur almost anywhere in the body.

In 2005-2009, the overall rate of new cases (incidence rate) of cancer was slightly lower 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 non-Indigenous people for:

Indigenous people had lower incidence rates than non-Indigenous people in 2005-2009 for:

The types of cancer that caused the most deaths among Indigenous people in 2008-2012 were lung cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer (for women) and cancer of 'unknown primary site' [3].

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


  1. Australian Cancer Research Foundation (2014) What is cancer?. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from
  2. Cancer Council Australia (2014) What is cancer?. Retrieved 1 December 2014 from
  3. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2014) Cancer in Australia: an overview 2014. 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. The Lancet Oncology; 9(6): 585-595
Last updated: 17 June 2015
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