Media Room

Lung cancer mortality rates dropping in Australia

17th December 2018 - Cancer research

A new study by Cancer Council NSW has found that Australia’s lung cancer mortality rates will drop between now and 2040. Due to the extensive lag time between smoking exposure and lung cancer mortality, the results are likely linked to the first government smoking regulations of the early 1990’s. Despite this progress, lung cancer remains the largest cause of cancer death in Australia, with about 81% of lung cancer cases estimated to be a result of tobacco smoking.

With recent NSW data showing that smoking rates have flatlined, Cancer Council is calling on the NSW government to commit to new key tobacco control initiatives to drive smoking rates down, as outlined in its pre-election campaign, Saving Life 2019. 

“It’s great to see lung cancer mortality rates dropping, which could be a result of past tobacco control measures. However, we know that in NSW alone, smoking still causes 5,500 deaths and 47,000 hospitalisations every year,” said Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW.  

“Most importantly, our research shows that there’s a lag of 26-29 years between smoking exposure and lung cancer mortality. Given that decline in smoking rates slowed in 2016, it’s evident that existing tobacco control measures are starting to lose purchase. As such, it’s absolutely crucial Australia continues to introduce new initiatives if we wish to see mortality rates continue to decline in future,” Professor Canfell added.

The study looked at past trends for lung cancer mortality and historical and current data on tobacco consumption to project lung cancer mortality rates into the future for Australia. It found that by 2040, male and female lung cancer rates will decline from 27.2 to 15.1 per 100,000, and 15.8 to 11.8 per 100,000, respectively. Despite the reduction in mortality rates, the number of lung cancer deaths will increase by 7.9% for males and 57.9% for females, due to population growth and ageing.

 “A continued focus on proven effective tobacco control measures, such as smoke free laws and mass media campaigns, is incredibly important. But we need to build on this by implementing further evidence-based policies to reduce smoking rates in NSW,” said Alecia Brooks, Tobacco Control Manager at Cancer Council NSW.

“Cancer Council NSW is calling on the next NSW Government for changes to tobacco laws that would protect workers and patrons from second-hand smoke in pubs and clubs. We are also advocating for reduction in the widespread availability of tobacco by banning tobacco vending machines and introducing a retailer licence fee, similar to requirements for alcohol retailers. These initiatives, as well as increased investment in mass media smoking cessation campaigns, will reduce smoking rates in NSW now, and ensure lung cancer mortality rates fall further in the future.”

Cancer research