Cancer is the second leading cause of death for Australians and the second most common cause of cancer death after heart disease, according to figures released today by the Australian Cancer Society.
More than 3.5 million Australians aged over 65 are diagnosed with the disease, which has a survival rate of only 0.8 per cent.
The latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that almost 60 per cent of Australians aged 65 and over have cancer, while the number of deaths is forecast to rise to more than 10 million by 2021.
More than one in three Australians will die of cancer by 2045, and almost 40 per cent will die by the end of the century, according the latest data.
With a national life expectancy of 79.7 years, more than 7.8 million Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by that time.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, more people die of COVID-19 in Australia than any other infectious disease, with more than 40,000 deaths reported in the last two years.
While the incidence of the disease has been steadily declining, it remains a serious threat to the nation, with an estimated 4.4 million people living with the infection and an estimated 1.3 million cases diagnosed in the past two years alone.
Cancer deaths are expected to rise as the number and types of infections increase, and as more people move away from high-risk settings, such as high-visibility outdoor settings and bars, according Dr Sarah Brown, president of the Australian Association of GPs.
She said that, as more places were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, people will face increasing isolation.
“We have seen a lot of patients come into the GP service who had a high-level of isolation, and we have seen the spread of the virus to people who didn’t have isolation in place,” Dr Brown said.
“[There are] people who are very isolated, but not necessarily living in the most isolated areas.
And those people are the ones that are going to have the most health problems and will also be at greater risk.”
Professor Scott Foddy, a leading expert in the field of infectious disease at the Australian National University, said it was a good thing that Australians with COVID had access to screening and care.
He said there was no doubt that COVID would spread and the country would be facing a lot more cases.
“The first thing we have to do is figure out what the virus is going to do to the population, and what is going on in people’s behaviour,” he said.
“We will also need to have an understanding of the impact of the COVID virus in the community.”
However, Professor Foddy warned that a lack of screening for cancer was a huge risk.
“As soon as you start to screen for COVID, the risk of it spreading becomes very, very high,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
‘Cancer is on our way out’ Dr Brown said that it was important that Australians had the information they needed to make informed decisions about their care, and to make their lives safer.
Dr Foddy said he believed the majority of people would be well served by having the right information, and that was why he was concerned about a lack in access to cancer screening and treatment.
“It’s an epidemic, so the numbers of people in the hospital, the number that are on chemo and so on, those are the people who really need to get the information,” he explained.
“(The information) will help inform people about what’s available and what’s not, and then they’ll make decisions about whether or not they need to go through with that.”
While Australia’s health system is focused on tackling the pandemic to a great extent, Dr Brown warned that it is not the only way to reduce the burden of the illness.
It is a very complex disease, and it’s a huge challenge to deal with it,” she said.