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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - Summary report 2023


In 2018, cancer and other neoplasms accounted for 10% of the total disease burden among Indigenous Australians, and in the 5-year period 2015–2019 was the leading broad cause of death.

In 2015–2019, 3,612 Indigenous Australians died from cancer and other neoplasms (23.4% of all deaths), the vast majority of which were caused by cancer (that is, malignant neoplasms). Cancer accounted for 23.1% of all deaths, with rate of 99 cancer deaths per 100,000 population. 

For Indigenous Australians, the most common broad types of cancer deaths were:

  • cancers of digestive organs (including liver cancer), accounting for 30% of cancer deaths
  • cancers of respiratory organs (including lungs), 26% of cancer deaths (Figure 4.14).
Figure 4.14: Leading causes of cancer and other neoplasm deaths among Indigenous Australians, 2015–2019 (proportion of total cancer and other neoplasm deaths)

Leading causes of cancer and other neoplasm deaths

Note: Data from NSW, Qld, WA, SA and NT combined.

Source: Measure 1.23, Table D1.23.12 – AIHW and ABS analysis of National Mortality Database.

For Indigenous Australians living in non-remote areas, the death rate due to cancer was 90 per 100,000 population, compared with 126 per 100,000 in remote areas. After adjusting for differences in the age-structure between the two populations, the rate of death due to cancer was 1.3 times as high for Indigenous Australian in non-remote areas and 1.7 times as high for Indigenous Australians in remote areas.

There are several national cancer screening programs available free of charge for Australians to reduce the risk of death through early detection of cancer when treatment is likely to be more effective. However, Indigenous Australians have lower rates of participation in screening programs than non-Indigenous Australians for breast cancer (age-standardised) and bowel cancer (Table 4.3).

Table 4.3: Participation in cancer screening programs


Indigenous (%)

Non-Indigenous (%)

Women aged 50–74 screened for breast cancer – age-standardised, 2019–20



People aged 50–74 participating in National Bowel Screening Program, 2019–2020(a)



People aged 50–74 having follow up colonoscopy, where appropriate, 2017– 2018



(a) Given the limitations in the data available to estimate Indigenous Australians’ participation in the NBCSP, caution should be used when interpreting these data (see Appendix F of AIHW 2021b).        

Sources: Measure 3.04, Table D3.04.9 – AIHW analysis of BreastScreen Australia data; National Bowel Cancer Screening Program: monitoring report 2021.

Figure 4.15: Rate of cancer hospitalisations (2009–10 to 2018–19) and deaths (2010–2019), by Indigenous status (age-standardised)

Rate of cancer hospitalisations over timeRate of cancer deaths over time


1. Data on hospitalisations from NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA and NT combined.

2. Data on deaths from NSW, Qld, WA, SA and NT combined.

Sources: Measure 1.08, Table D1.08.15 – AIHW analysis of National Hospital Morbidity Database; and Measure 1.23, Table D1.23.20 – AIHW National Mortality Database.

For many people, cancer diagnosis will lead to multiple hospitalisations for treatment and recovery. Between July 2017 and June 2019, there were 11,970 hospitalisations with a principal diagnosis of cancer for Indigenous Australians, equivalent to hospitalisation rate of 7.2 per 1,000 populations. Indigenous males had a higher hospitalisation rate than Indigenous females, at 7.9 and 6.5 per 1,000 population, respectively.

Over the decade between 2009–10 and 2018–19, the age-standardised rate of hospitalisation with a principal diagnosis of cancer among Indigenous Australians increased by 47% from 9.6 to 13 per 1,000 population (data from NSW, Vic, Qld, WA, SA and NT combined). Among Indigenous Australians, age-standardised death rates from cancer increased by 12% over the decade (data from NSW, Qld, WA, SA and NT combined).

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