Cancer now the leading cause of death in Australia: study


Cancer has become the leading cause of death in Australia and almost every other country, according to a major international study.

The disease causes more than eight million deaths a year, despite major medical advances, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) study.

The WHO urges prevention rather than cure.

"We can't treat our way out of it," said the report's co-editor, Professor Bernard Stewart of the University of NSW, during an online briefing hosted by the Australian Science Media Centre.

For Australians who don't smoke, prevention means keeping moderately active, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting sun exposure and alcohol consumption.

People should also ensure they have the correct tests at the correct time to catch the disease early if it occurs.

"Once you have ticked the smoking box, the next most important thing about preventing cancer is a healthy body weight," Cancer Council Australia spokesperson Terry Slevin told AAP after the briefing.

"Most people know that fruit and vegetables and basic grains are important. The less processed food, the better."

Australia has the third-highest cancer rate in the world, after Denmark and France, largely because of its ageing population and sophisticated screening regime, he said.

Like other richer countries, the most common cancers in Australia are lung, breast, colorectal and prostate.

One of Mr Slevin's biggest concerns is inertia caused by myths about causes and cures of cancer.

"If you believed everything on the internet, you'd be scared to leave the house.

"We have some pretty good evidence about what causes cancer and what doesn't," he said.

And it's not tight underwear, deodorant or plastic water bottles, according to the council's myth-busting iheard website, for which a mobile phone app has been launched to mark World Cancer Day on Tuesday.

Prof Stewart said molecular analysis of cancer had given huge insights into the development of new treatments, early detection and more accurate diagnosis.

Despite this, there was a need for governments to support prevention campaigns, particularly highlighting the dangers of obesity and alcohol.

"There is a crucial place for law and regulation, as has been shown by the anti-tobacco campaign.

"There is an opportunity to look to other countries and see what works in preventing specific cancers in the same way as other countries look to Australia in relation to plain packaging of cigarettes."

Source AAP

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