Latest release

Contains key statistics and information about cancer and its prevalence in Australia

Reference period
2017-18 financial year
Next release Unknown
First release

Key statistics

  • 432,400 Australians had cancer.
  • The most commonly reported type of cancer is skin cancer.
  • Males were more likely to have cancer than females (2.1% compared with 1.5%).

What is cancer?

Cancer is a condition in which the body's cells grow and spread in an uncontrolled manner. A cancerous cell can arise from almost any cell, and therefore cancer can be found almost anywhere in the body. Cancer cells that do not spread beyond the immediate area in which they arise are said to be benign i.e. they are generally not dangerous. If these cells spread into surrounding areas, or to different parts of the body, they are known as malignant - commonly referred to as cancer[1]. Other terms used to describe cancer are 'malignant neoplasms' and 'malignant tumours'.

Cancers accounted for 28.1% of Australian deaths in 2017, around 45,200 people. Lung cancer accounted for the most cancer deaths (8,262 or 5.1% deaths), making it the second leading cause of death for males and fifth leading cause overall. Bowel cancer was the sixth leading cause of death, accounting for 5,325 in 2017, followed by blood cancers 4,499 deaths. Prostate cancer (3,275 deaths) was the sixth ranked cause for men whilst breast cancer was the sixth ranked cause for women (2,898 deaths)[2]. 


In this publication, cancer data refers to persons who reported ever been told by a doctor or nurse they have cancer (including cancer in remission). Cancer is regarded as a long-term condition, that is, expected to last for six months or more, although it is recognised that some cases of cancer may not meet the six month threshold, for instance, a person who is diagnosed with skin cancer can have surgery to successfully remove the cancer. There are two main groupings:

  •  malignant neoplasms
  •  benign neoplasms

Non-melanoma skin cancers, including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are included in 'malignant neoplasms'.

How common was cancer in 2017-18?

In 2017-18 around one in fifty (1.8% or 432,400) Australians had cancer. Whilst there was an increase in cancer rates between 2001 and 2017-18, the rate has remained relatively stable since 2004-05. Of those people with cancer, nearly one in three people (30.8% or 133,100) had skin cancer, making this the most commonly reported type of cancer, followed by prostate cancer (70,600) and breast cancer (63,300). 

Males (2.1% or 250,900) were more likely than females to have cancer (1.5% or 179,700). Males had more than double the rate of skin cancer than females (0.7% compared to 0.3% respectively). 

Higher rates of cancer occurred in people aged 55 years and over. Overall, 8.2% of people aged 75 years and over had cancer, with males twice as likely as females to have cancer in this age group (11.5% compared to 5.1%). 

The rate of cancer was higher for people living in the most disadvantaged areas (first quintile) across Australia compared with those living in the least disadvantaged areas (fifth quintile) (2.4% and 1.3% respectively).

(a) A lower Index of Disadvantage quintile (e.g. the first quintile) indicates relatively greater disadvantage and a lack of advantage in general. A higher Index of Disadvantage (e.g. the fifth quintile) indicates a relative lack of disadvantage and greater advantage in general. See Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage in the Glossary.

Data downloads

Table 1: Summary health characteristics, 2001 to 2017–18 - Australia

Table 2: Summary health characteristics, 2017–18 - states and territories

Table 3: Long-term health conditions - Australia

Table 4: Long-term health conditions by population characteristics - Australia 

Table 5: Selected current long-term conditions by health risk factors and health status - Australia

Table 19: Comorbidity of selected chronic conditions - Australia

Table 20: New South Wales

Table 21: Victoria

Table 22: Queensland

Table 23: South Australia

Table 24: Western Australia

Table 25: Tasmania

Table 26: Northern Territory

Table 27: Australian Capital Territory

All data cubes


Show all

  1. Cancer Council, What is cancer?; last accessed 14/11/2018
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, Causes of Death, Australia, 2017's%20leading%20causes%20of%20death,%202017~2; last accessed 14/11/2018

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4364.0.55.001.

Back to top of the page