The number of people with cancer continues to rise, while the rate at which people die from the disease continues to fall, new data shows.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Health and the National Health Board show 20,875 cancers were registered in 2009, with 53.4 per cent of them in males. That is a rise of 22.8 per cent since 1999.
In 2009, 8437 people had cancer recorded as their underlying cause of death, 52.2 per cent of them male. The number of deaths from cancer rose 9.9 per cent over the decade.
Cancer is the leading cause of death, accounting for 28.9 per cent of deaths in 2009.
During the same period the rate of death from cancer fell 16.2 per cent, from 151.4 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 126.8 in 2009.
Professor Tony Blakely from Otago University’s public health department said the rise in the number of people getting cancer each year was due to the population growing and aging.
The rise in the number of people needing treatment was a big issue for health services, Blakely said.
“We have to pay for that somehow.”
Treatments had been improving for most cancers, apart from the “awful” ones such as lung and pancreatic cancer.
“Essentially we are curing more people.”
Some cancers, such as those of the breast and prostate, could come back years later. With others such as testicular and thyroid cancer, “if you survive three years, you’re pretty much cured”.
The new data shows lung cancer was the fifth most common cancer registered in 2009, at 9.6 per cent of the total. It was the most common cause of death from cancer, at 18.8 per cent.
In 2009, 1105 lung cancer cases were registered by males and 903 were registered by females, while 876 males and 717 females died from the disease.
In the decade to 2009 male lung cancer registration rates fell 15.3 per cent, while those for females rose 18 per cent. Male mortality rates fell 25.2 per cent and female rates were down 1.9 per cent.
While Maori are making gains in surviving cancer, they continue to be much harder hit by the disease than non-Maori.
In 2009, 879 Maori died from cancer, a rate of 210 deaths per 100,000 population. That was 75.3 per cent higher than the non-Maori rate of 119.8.
Non-Maori cancer mortality rates fell 17.4 per cent between 1999 and 2009, while Maori rates fell 8.9 per cent.
There were 1888 cancer registrations for Maori in 2009. That was a rate of 415.2 per 100,000, which was 22.9 per cent higher than the non-Maori rate of 337.9.
Blakely said Maori tended to seek medical help for cancer at a later stage than did non-Maori, and they were more likely to have co-morbidity, such as diabetes and lung diseases, which could limit treatment options
Also, steps along the treatment pathway – such as time to get to surgery – were usually just a little worse for Maori, and those small differences accumulated. Efforts were being made to overcome that problem, and improvements were being made although much more still had to be done.
Data published earlier this year showed a statistically significant improvement in survival for adults with cancer.
Survival increased from a 1998-1999 ratio of 0.577 – meaning a rate of survival of 58 per cent when compared to a group from the general population – to a ratio of 0.633 in 2008-2009.