4363.0.55.001 - Australian Health Survey: Users' Guide, 2011-13  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/06/2013   
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This topic refers primarily to those ever told by a doctor or nurse they have cancer, and who consider they currently have cancer (including cancer in remission).

For the purposes of this survey, all cancer reported as current was regarded as being a long-term condition. Given the potential sensitivity of the topic, this was considered the most appropriate approach, although it was recognised that some cases of cancer may not meet the six month threshold (e.g. a person who is diagnosed with skin cancer and who has had surgery to successfully remove the cancer, could occur within a six month period).

This module also asks respondents about cancer screening activities for all persons regardless of whether or not they have cancer.


Information was obtained for all persons in the NHS.


All respondents were first asked whether they, or any one else (i.e. partner or GP) regularly checked their skin for any changes in freckles or moles.

Respondents were then asked if they had ever been told by a doctor or nurse that they had cancer, and the type of cancer (including type of skin cancer) they had.

Predefined 'type of cancer' categories were included on the questionnaire, with provision for interviewers to record one additional type of cancer if required. The categories used were:

  • skin (including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma)
  • colon/rectum/bowel
  • breast
  • prostate
  • lung (including trachea, pleura, bronchus)
  • cervical
  • other female reproductive organs (including, uterus, ovary)
  • bladder/kidney
  • stomach
  • leukaemia
  • non-hodgkin lymphoma
  • other type of lymphoma
  • cancer of unknown primary site
  • other (specified).

More than one response was allowed.

Those who reported having been told that they had skin cancer were asked what type of skin cancer they had:
  • melanoma
  • basal cell carcinoma
  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • other form of skin cancer.

More than one response was allowed as well as a 'don't know' category.

Respondents were then asked if they currently had cancer, the type of cancer (including type of skin cancer) and whether they were receiving treatment. For the purposes of this survey, persons in remission were regarded as still having cancer, irrespective of the period of remission. That is, they were asked "including cancer which is in remission, do you currently have cancer?".

Respondents who identified as having breast cancer were asked at what age they were first diagnosed.

All respondents, regardless of whether they have cancer, were also asked whether they had ever been tested for cancer and, if so, whether they had been tested in the last 2 years.

Females, who indicated they had ever been tested for cancer, were then asked if they had been tested for:
  • bowel (had a faecal occult blood test)
  • breast (had a mammogram)
  • cervical (had a pap smear)
  • other.

Males, who indicated they had ever been tested for cancer, were then asked if they had been tested for:
  • bowel (had a faecal occult blood test)
  • prostate
  • other.

Respondents who reported they currently had cancer were then sequenced to the Actions module where they were asked questions about the number of times they had seen a GP, specialist, etc.

Respondents were asked in a later module about all medications and health supplements they were taking, but not in relation to any specific condition. This differs from the 2007-08 survey where questions about medication were asked within the cancer module.

Data items

The data items and related output categories for this topic are available in Excel spreadsheet format from the Downloads page of this product.


Points to be considered in interpreting data for this topic include the following.
  • Cases of cancer reported through the general questions about long-term conditions (rather than the specific cancer questions) have not necessarily been medically diagnosed, and may instead be other conditions. In particular, self-diagnosed skin cancer may be subject to misreporting.
  • As noted above, current cancers were assumed to be long-term (of six months or more duration), whether or not this was actually the case.
  • Those cases of cancer reported through the 'Long-term conditions' module, rather than the 'cancer module', have not necessarily been diagnosed by a doctor or nurse. These respondents are identified by their conditions status of 4: Not known if ever told or not ever told, but condition current and long-term.
  • Because this is a household-based survey, people with cancer who are residents in hospitals, nursing or convalescent homes or similar accommodation were outside the scope of this survey.
  • There were no prompt cards used to show the type of cancer test respondents may have had, therefore some respondents may have had a test for cancer but not realised this and thus did not report it.
  • The prevalence of most long-term illness increases with age. In drawing comparisons of prevalence between the surveys, account should be taken of the shift in the age profile of the population during the period between surveys. As a result of this Table 1 in the Australian Health Survey: First Results, 2011-12, (cat. no. 4364.0.55.001) has been age standardised so that direct comparisons can be made.

Comparability with 2007-08

Data for most common items are considered directly comparable between the 2011-12 and 2007-08 surveys.

However, questions about testing for cancer, with the exception of the skin checks, were not asked in the 2007-08 survey.

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