Cancer answers

Cancer is one of the most feared – and the most misunderstood – diseases. Although it’s often thought to be a disease that old people get, cancer rates among young people are getting higher. And Indigenous Australians are at a greater risk than the rest of the population.

The most common cancers in Indigenous communities are lung, liver and cervical cancer. A study published in the journal Cancer Causes and Control, written by Bruce Armstrong, has revealed that high rates of smoking and hepatitis B, and low Pap test rates contributed to a high incidence and mortality of those cancers.

But the good news is that these cancers are also preventable.

Lung cancer rates are high among Indigenous people due to the high rate of smoking in our communities – according to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), tobacco use in Indigenous communities runs at about 54 per cent, while only about 19 per cent of non-Indigenous people smoke. So the best way to avoid getting lung cancer is to ditch those ciggies!

The study also found that liver cancer rates were high because of the high incidence of hepatitis B in Indigenous Australia. Hepatitis B is caused by contact with blood or other body fluids, such as semen, vaginal fluid or saliva, from an infected person. This usually happens through sexual contact or by using a dirty needle. A mother may also transmit hepatitis B to her unborn baby during pregnancy. The best way to avoid contracting hepatitis B is to always use a condom and to never share needles. Children should be vaccinated at birth.

Cervical cancer mortality rates were high among Indigenous women due to the fact that many do not have regular Pap tests. The most common type of cervical cancer usually takes more than 10 years to develop, so a Pap test every two years will ensure that any problems can be detected and treated early.

The Cancer Council of Australia will be holding a special forum on cancer control in Indigenous communities on August 25-26. It will be held in Darwin, and is aimed at reducing the impact of cancer in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities Australia-wide.
For more information, contact Ellen Kerrins at the Cancer Council, South Australia on (08) 8291 4111 or email [email protected]

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