People living in regional areas face a higher incidence of cancer and lower rates of survival than those in metropolitan areas, according to new research.
Ballarat has the 12th highest incidence of cancer out of 21 local government areas across western Victoria including Geelong, Horsham and Warrnambool.
Researcher Stephanie Cowdery, a PhD student at Deakin University's School of Medicine, said Ballarat had a cancer incidence rate of 3.72 per 10,000 population.
Ms Cowdery's research has mapped cancer prevalence across western Victoria, showing increased rates in more disadvantaged and remote areas.
"We found that cancer incidence rates vary among men and women and across local government areas and increase with advancing age, greater socio-economic disadvantage, remoteness and lower accessibility," Ms Cowdery said.
Incidence of #cancer across #WesternVictoria. Increased rates linked to; advancing age, SES disparities & remoteness. Findings identify inequalities in #rural & #regional areas, with potential to positively impact health service delivery #haveanIMPACThttps://t.co/4qSisT5AFy— IMPACTSRC Deakin (@IMPACTSRC) September 13, 2019
With more than half of cancer diagnoses in Australia occuring in those over 65, and the rapidly ageing population, it is estimated that the annual number of new cancer diagnoses will increase by more than a third, and deaths by almost a fifth over the next decade alone.
"This increase is expected to be felt even more keenly in regional areas where cancer incidence is higher than the cities and survival is lower. This difference is often attributed to reduced access to screening and treatment services in rural areas, an older population and lower socioeconomic status," she said.
"That's why this research is vital in order to understand the impact of the region's increasing ageing population, as well as factors such as socioeconomic status and accessibility on cancer incidence and mortality."
Just because you live in an area of high incidence, that doesn't necessarily mean you have a higher risk of getting cancer, as incidence rates may reflect the general health and lifestyles of people living in your area and may not reflect your own individual risk.Stephanie Cowdery
Confirming previously reported trends, men in western Victoria had a slightly higher cancer incidence rate than women.
"That's typically linked to modifiable risk factors such as diet, exercise, sunburn related skin cancer, smoking and alcohol," she said.
Ms Cowdery said the aim of the research was to help health services better identify areas of need for cancer prevention, diagnosis and care initiatives in their regions.
"Identifying inequalities in rural and regional health service delivery is important and it's hoped these findings will assist in implementing targeted and improved services at all points of the cancer continuum from prevention strategies, screening services, treatment, survivorship and palliation," Ms Cowdery said.
But she said there was no need for those living in western Victoria to be alarmed if their district was identified as an area of higher incidence.
"Just because you live in an area of high incidence, that doesn't necessarily mean you have a higher risk of getting cancer, as incidence rates may reflect the general health and lifestyles of people living in your area and may not reflect your own individual risk," she said.
"Importantly, these findings can serve as a timely reminder to have a discussion with your GP about your general health and take part in appropriate cancer screening programs."
The study Mapping Cancer incidence across Western Victoria: The association with age, accessibility, and socioeconomic status among men and women was published in the journal BMC Cancer.
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