Notes on the data: Premature mortality by selected cause - 0 to 74 years

Deaths from cancer, persons aged 0 to 74 years, 2016 to 2020


Policy context:  The leading cause of premature mortality in Australia is cancer. Cancer is a general term used to describe the group of diseases where cells grow in an uncontrolled and purposeless way inside the body [1]. Some cancers can be cured, others can be controlled by medical treatment and some are diagnosed too late for medical treatment to be effective. Although the causes of many cancers are not fully understood, some of the factors that place people at greater risk of developing cancer are well recognised. They include: biomedical factors (e.g., genetic susceptibility, hormonal factors), behavioural factors (e.g., smoking - cause of around 20-30% of all cancers, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and obesity, chronic infections, diet) and environmental factors (e.g., sunlight, radiation, occupational exposures, pollution) [2]. Some risk factors cannot be changed while others, especially those related to behaviours, are modifiable. The risk of many cancers increases as people age.

From 1968 to 2016, age-standardised mortality rates for all cancers combined decreased from 213.1 per 100,000 population in 1994 to 160.0 per 100,000 in 2016 [3]. Decreases were also evident for most cancer types, with notable exceptions including brain cancer, liver cancer, rectal cancer, and lung cancer in females [3]. The rate for males increased from 258.3 per 100,000 males in 1968 to 287.1 per 100,000 males in 1989, was relatively stable to 1994, from when it decreased markedly to 198.9 per 100,000 males in 2016, although that was some 54.5% above the female rate [3]. Rates for females were relatively flat from 1968 to 1996, before decreasing to 128.7 per 100,000 females in 2016.

SSocioeconomic disparities are evident in cancer mortality, both for all cancers (with rates of cancer-related mortality 64% higher in areas of lower socioeconomic status (SES) than those in higher SES areas over the period 2016-2020), and for many individual cancers [4].

However, cancer incidence varies little for all cancers, with some notable variations by cancer type [4]. For example, incidence was higher in males in low SES areas for colorectal cancer, lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer and stomach cancer; they were lower for prostate cancer, melanoma of the skin and lymphoma [4]. For females, incidence was higher in low SES areas for colorectal cancer, lung cancer and uterine cancer; and lower for breast cancer, melanoma of the skin, lymphoma and thyroid cancer [4].

For 2016 to 2020 almost half (47.2%) of deaths from cancer were premature, with closely similare proportions for males and females – details here.


  1. Cancer Council Australia (CCA). About cancer: FAQ [Internet]. Available from:; last accessed 18 October 2013.
  2. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) & Australasian Association of Cancer Registries (AACR). Cancer in Australia 2010: an overview. Cancer series no. 60. (AIHW Cat. no. CAN 56). Canberra: AIHW; 2010.
  3. Cancer mortality, National Cancer Control Indicators. Available from:; last accessed 18 January 2021.
  4. PHIDU (, based on Cause of Death Unit Record Files supplied by the Australian Coordinating Registry and the Victorian Department of Justice, on behalf of the Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the National Coronial Information System; 2016 to 2020.

Notes:  International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision (ICD-10) codes: C00-D48

For deaths data released since 2007, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has applied a staged approach to the coding of cause of death which affects the number of records available for release at any date. In general, the latest year’s data is preliminary, the second latest is revised and the data for the remaining years is final. For further information about the ABS revisions process see the following and related sites:

However, data published here are from the following releases: 2016 and 2017, final; 2018, revised; and 2019 and 2020, preliminary.


Geography: Data available by Population Health Area, Local Government Area, Primary Health Network, Quintile of socioeconomic disadvantage of area and Remoteness Area


Numerator:  Deaths from cancer at ages 0 to 74 years


Detail of analysis:  Average annual indirectly age-standardised rate per 100,000 population (aged 0 to 74 years); and/or indirectly age-standardised ratio, based on the Australian standard.


Source:  Data compiled by PHIDU from deaths data based on the 2016 to 2020 Cause of Death Unit Record Files supplied by the Australian Coordinating Registry and the Victorian Department of Justice, on behalf of the Registries of Births, Deaths and Marriages and the National Coronial Information System. The population is the ABS Estimated Resident Population (ERP) for Australia, 30 June 2016 to 30 June 2020.


© PHIDU, Torrens University Australia This content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia licence.