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You can now discover the impact of cancer in your suburb or town with the new Australian Cancer Atlas.

The interactive digital cancer atlas shows national patterns in cancer incidence and survival rates based on where people live for 20 of the most common cancers in Australia – such as lung, breast and bowel cancer – likely reflecting the characteristics, lifestyles and access to health services in the area.

This world-leading project, led by researchers from Cancer Council Queensland, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and FrontierSI, will give health agencies and policy makers a better understanding of geographic disparities and health requirements across the country.

How we’ll use the Atlas

As a charity, it’s particularly important for us to know where the areas of highest need are so we can direct our attention to the places and people who need our help the most.

The information tells us which cancers are generally affecting which areas, and can inform the types of programs and support we provide.

We know that some people face greater risks of diagnosis and death than others, due to a mix of lifestyle, behaviour, genetics and other unknown factors.

We’ve already used incidence data to indentify regional Australians are 20 to 30 per cent more likely to die from cancer and be diagnosed with cancer at a much later stage than patients in the cities. To help address this disparity we developed our Find Cancer Early campaign to deliver specific education around cancer symptoms, risk factors and available screening programs for regional people.

Trends – Melanoma hotspots in WA

One trend depicted in the atlas is the 15 melanoma hotspots along the WA coast.

The rates of melanoma in these areas were well above the national average – Falcon, for example was 79% higher than the national average.

As our SunSmart Manager Mark Strickland explains, unfortunately, these findings aren’t surprising:

“The melanoma hotspots correspond to coastal areas, where there are high concentrations of people who have access to the beach lifestyle – lots of people getting lots of sun.”

“So we see rates being high in Denmark, Margaret River, Falcon and the northern Perth beaches, all places where people spend time outside at the beach or living the underdressed beach lifestyle”

“In addition to this lifestyle, these are also places where the population is concentrated. More people equals more cancer.”

The Atlas very clearly confirms that higher sun exposure causes higher rates of skin cancer, and our SunSmart message is particularly important in these areas.

“Now that the weather’s warming up and most of us are spending more time outdoors, it’s a timely reminder for people to slip slop slap seek and slide when they’re outside, even on cloudy and cooler days.”

“It’s important to remember that heat is not a reliable indicator of UV level. Around 25% of the population still incorrectly equate temperature with skin cancer risk but it is UV that does the damage. When the UV is higher than 3, you need to Slip Slop Slap Seek and Slide”

13 of the top 15 WA melanoma “red zones” are outside the metro area. The top 15 are:

  • Falcon/Wannanup – 79% higher than national average for melanoma diagnoses.
  • Margaret River – 57% higher
  • Cottesloe – 54% higher
  • City Beach – 49% higher
  • Bunbury – 48% higher
  • Gelorup/Dalyellup/Stratham – 47% higher
  • Denmark – 43% higher
  • Australind – 42% higher
  • Augusta – 42% higher
  • Koombana – 41% higher
  • Eaton – 41% higher
  • Busselton – 38% higher
  • Capel – 38% higher
  • Dunsborough/Busselton region – 37% higher
  • Broome – 39% higher

Other points to note

  • The National Average is used as a baseline for the Atlas. Regions are compared to this average so naturally there will be areas above and below that average.
  • We can never be completely certain about all factors at work in a hotspot. For example a melanoma hotspot may exist because there are some skin clinics in the area diagnosing more skin cancers. If we look for more cancer we tend to find more cancer.
  • There is no suggestion that your risk of cancer is higher simply because of your geographical area. This means that you can’t really influence your cancer risk by moving to another area. Lifestyle factors are the biggest modifiable predictor of cancer risk. Next come genetic factors. It’s much more important what you do rather than where you do it.