Media backgrounder: National Data for Stage at Diagnosis - Top 5 Incidence Cancers

Overview

  • National stage at diagnosis data for the top five incidence cancers – breast (female), colorectal, lung, prostate cancer and melanoma – has been published by Cancer Australia.

  • ‘Stage at diagnosis’ indicates the extent to which a cancer has spread when first diagnosed and is an important prognostic factor for individual cancer outcomes. It can be categorised into four stages of increasing severity (stages 1, 2, 3 and 4).

  • Stage data provides information for interpreting population health indicators such as cancer survival, recurrence, and treatment patterns.

  • The majority of cancers were staged as an ‘early stage’ at diagnosis (stage 1 or stage 2) for each cancer type, except for lung cancer (refer to page 2). 

  • The collection of stage data can improve the availability, analysis and reporting of national cancer data to better understand unwarranted variations in cancer outcomes across the population.

  • Led by Cancer Australia, the data is the result of a collaboration with all state and territory population-based cancer registries and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
     

Graph 1: Stage distribution for the top 5 incident cancers in Australia (2011)

Notes:
The data are grouped into four stages which indicate the extent to which a cancer has spread, from stage 1 for localised disease to stage 4 for metastatic or more widely spread disease.

Due to rounding, some totals may not be equal to the sum of the separate figures.

Key findings

1.  A high proportion breast (female), prostate and melanomas were diagnosed as early stage cancers

  • At least 77% of incident cancer cases were diagnosed as early stage (stage 1 or stage 2) for breast (female) and prostate cancer, and melanoma.

  • Colorectal cancer stage at diagnosis was relatively evenly distributed across stage 1, stage 2 and locally advanced (stage 3) cancers.

  • For lung cancer, there were lower proportions of early stage (stage 1 or stage 2) cancers (18%) and relatively high proportions of metastatic cancers (stage 4; 42%).

2.  The distribution pattern for stage at diagnosis for each cancer type varied by age

  • For colorectal cancer, people aged 50 years and over had a higher proportion of early stage cancers at diagnosis (stage 1 and stage 2) than those aged less than 50 years.

  • For breast cancer, people aged 50 years and over had a higher proportion of stage 1 cancers at diagnosis than those aged less than 50 years.

  • For lung cancer, melanoma, and prostate cancer, persons aged less than 50 years had a higher proportion of stage 1 cancers than persons aged 50 years and over.

3.  Proportions for locally advanced or metastatic cancers tended to be higher for Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous

  • Indigenous Australians tended to have lower proportions of stage 1 cancers, and higher proportions of locally advanced or metastatic cancers than non-Indigenous for breast (female), colorectal and prostate cancer. These data are only available for New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and Northern Territory.  

4.  The proportion of early stage cancers were lower in Remote and Very Remote areas

  • For breast (female), colorectal, lung and prostate cancer there were similar proportions of early stage, locally advanced and metastatic cancers when comparing Major Cities to Inner and Outer Regional areas; however Remote and Very remote areas had a lower proportion of early stage cancers.

  • Melanoma cannot be examined for Remote and Very remote areas due to small numbers.

5.  The distribution pattern for stage at diagnosis was similar across socioeconomic status areas for each cancer type

  • Across socioeconomic status areas, there were similar stage distribution patterns for each cancer type, and similar patterns were apparent across socioeconomic status areas for both sexes.

6.  The stage distribution pattern varied among countries

  • Australia had a comparable or higher proportion of early stage (stage 1 and stage 2) cancers for most cancer types compared to Canada and England.

Find out more: