Inner-regional Australians most likely to develop cancer

LIVING in inner-regional areas such as the North Coast brings a wealth of blessings, but a new study suggests residents are also among Australia's most likely to develop cancer.

The new Garvan Rural Health Report titled A Rural Perspective: Cancer and Medical Research confirms inner-regional dwellers have the country's highest cancer rate as a result of an ingrained culture of risky behaviour.

But there is good news for those living on the North Coast.

Despite being among the most likely to develop cancer, relatively easy access to healthcare means inner-regional residents are also among the country's least likely to die from the disease.

Inner-regional Australians had the highest incidence rate in six selected cancer types: prostate cancer (206 cases per 100,000 population), breast cancer in females (120 per 100,000), colorectal cancer (70 per 100,000), melanoma of the skin (62 per 100,000), non-Hodgkin lymphoma (19 per 100,000) and kidney cancer (13 per 100,000).

"The further a cancer patient lives from a major city, the more likely they are to die within five years of diagnosis," the report said.

"People in very remote areas are most likely to die from cancer (191.9 deaths per 100,000, all cancers combined) despite being the least likely to be diagnosed (398.3 cases per 100,000)."

Inner-regional communities had the second best survival rates, behind only major cities.

Garvan Research Foundation chief executive officer Andrew Giles attributed risky lifestyles to inner-regional residents' propensity for developing cancer.

"Having multiple risk factors increases the likelihood of developing a chronic condition," he said.

"Major cities have a smaller proportion of people with four or more risk factors; 33%, compared with 40% for those living in inner regional areas.

"The data indicates that risk factors include higher risk of exposure to UV radiation among outdoor and agricultural workers, smoking, alcohol consumption and obesity."

The NSW Population Health Survey found 15.7% of people aged 16 and over within the Northern NSW Local Health District smoked in 2015.

It also found 52.5% of adults were overweight or obese, and 32.4% of those aged 16 and over consumed alcohol at a level that posed long-term risk to their health.

Mr Giles believed the health gap between cities and remote areas could be closed.

"The ongoing challenge is to ensure that innovation in medicine is equalled by innovative policies that increase access to discovery so that all Australians can claim their share of the benefit," he said.

"The government needs to work with local communities, stakeholders and medical institutes like Garvan to see what can be done. 

"We hope the report and the ensuing discussion around rural health will influence action - action to drive access to a wide range of much-needed services.

"We hope it will spur increased funding for rural health services and medical research projects that specifically work with/benefit rural Australia."

The report coincided with the release of a 21-year study of more than 2.4 million cases of infectious disease across Australia.

It discovered being poorer, living remotely or being indigenous greatly increased the risk of sexually transmitted infections including hepatitis B and C, which can be vaccinated against.

The Monash University study, published this week in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, discovered people living in remote areas of Australia were three times more likely to have a notifiable disease, with the incidence of STIs six times higher in these regions.

It also showed people living in Queensland and the Northern Territory were disproportionally represented on the infectious diseases scorecard.

Queensland had the greatest number of notifications despite ranking third in population behind NSW and Victoria.

The study revealed indigenous people represented 8% of notified cases despite making up only 3% of the population.

"Significant under-reporting of indigenous status among notified cases means likely underestimation of this proportion despite completeness of indigenous status reporting in health data sets being a priority in the Federal Government's Closing the Gap strategy," report co-author Dr Katherine Gibney said.


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