Indicator Definitions

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Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 Technical report

The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 reveals how the impact of cancer varies across Australia.

Below, you will find an overview of the methods used to create the Atlas. If you would like more detailed information about the methods, technology, data sources or visualisations, please refer to our Technical Report (e-book).

Types of Indicators

There are six separate types of indicators included in the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0. Scroll down or click on the tabs above to learn about the different indicators.

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Cancer Risk Factors

In Australia, about one in three cancers can be linked to things we can change, like our lifestyle choices. The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 focuses on five main groups of factors that can increase cancer risk: smoking, alcohol, diet, weight, and physical activity. These were selected after consulting a wide range of experts and reviewing the scientific literature. The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 includes the following risk factors:

Current smokers

Those who reported to be current smokers – including daily, weekly or less than weekly – who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their life.

Inadequate diet

Based on self-reported diet, those who did not meet both the fruit and vegetable 2013 NHMRC Australian Dietary guidelines.

Inadequate physical activity (all)

Those who did not meet the 2014 Department of Health Physical Activity guidelines, based on their leisure and workplace physical activity levels.

Inadequate physical activity (leisure only)

Those who did not meet the 2014 Department of Health Physical Activity guidelines, based on their leisure physical activity levels.


Those with a measured body mass index (BMI) greater or equal to 30.

Overweight or obese

Those with a measured body mass index (BMI) greater or equal to 25. 

Risky alcohol consumption

Self-reported, no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. 


Those with a measured waist circumference measurements of 94cm (men) and 80cm (women).

How to use the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0

If you’d like help navigating the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0, head to our How to Use page for detailed instructions for gathering insights and understanding what they mean.

Cancer Diagnosis

The term “cancer diagnosis” refers to the new cases of cancer identified during a certain time. Just stating the number of diagnoses can be misleading because some areas have higher populations than others. To give a more accurate picture, cancer diagnosis rates are used, that adjust for the population living in each area, along with the age distribution.

When the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 talks about cancer diagnosis, it’s referring to those cancers diagnosed among Australians aged 15 and older.

Mother comforting daughter with cancer
Man and woman hugging

Cancer Survival

The term “cancer survival” refers to how many people diagnosed with cancer are still alive a certain number of years after their diagnosis. In the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0, survival five years after the initial diagnosis is reported.

In the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0, survival related to the cancer itself is of particular interest, rather than other causes such as injury or dementia. However, finding the exact cause of death can be complex, especially when someone has multiple health issues at the same time. This makes it hard to calculate “cause-specific survival” because a single cause of death is often unknown.

One way to deal with this is to use “relative survival,” where the overall survival of a group of cancer patients is compared with the overall survival of the general population. This comparison takes into account the age and sex of the people diagnosed with cancer, so any difference in survival between the two groups can be linked to the cancer diagnosis.

If the 5-year relative survival estimate is 100%, it means that, on average, there’s no difference in survival between the cancer patients and the general population over the 5 years following the diagnosis. On the other hand, a 5-year relative survival estimate of 50% indicates that, on average, the group of cancer patients is about half as likely to survive for 5 years than the general population. Survival maps are not provided for certain cancer characteristics or cancer types, because the 5-year relative survival is close to 100%.

Cancer Screening or Testing

The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 includes information on breast cancer screening, cervical screening and bowel cancer screening, each of which are formal screening programs within Australia. In addition, prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing is included, which is an ad-hoc method for detecting signs of prostate cancer.

Bowel Cancer Screening

Regular screening has been shown to lower both the number of new cases and deaths from bowel (or colorectal) cancer. It helps by finding and treating pre-cancerous issues and early-stage cancer. Many developed countries have organized screening programs for bowel cancer.

In Australia, the government runs the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program (NBCSP), providing free screening every two years. They use a test called the immunochemical faecal occult blood test (iFOBT). The test checks for blood in the stool, which is an early sign of bowel cancer. The bowel screening program is for Australians aged 50 to 74. The goal is to detect signs of bowel cancer early and reduce related deaths. Eligible Australians in this age group receive a free test to use at home.

Publicly available population-level participation data for the national bowel cancer screening program were obtained from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.The results in the Atlas do not include any screening outside of this program.

National Bowel Cancer Screening
Doctor and her patient discussing her results

Cervical Screening

In Australia, under the National Cervical Screening Program, people with a cervix are encouraged to take a Cervical Screening Test every five years when they are aged between 25-74 years old.

Breast Screening

Breast Cancer Screening

Early detection of breast cancer is important as it enables more effective treatment and improves survival outcomes. The Breast Screen Australia program invites women aged between 50-74 years to have a free mammogram every 2 years. Breast screen Australia participation data were extracted from the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW). Note that mammograms carried out through private facilities are not included in the breast screen results in the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0.

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing

The prostate specific antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the prostate – a small gland below the bladder of men.

Regular testing for PSA is commonly used as an opportunistic approach to check asymptomatic men for potential prostate cancer risk. However, further testing reveals that many men who receive a positive result from a PSA test do not have prostate cancer, and it can be challenging to distinguish between cancerous and non-cancerous conditions in the prostate using this test. As a result, in Australia it is conducted on a case-by-case basis rather than being part of organized population-wide screening programs. This is different to the formal cancer screening programs in Australia for breast cancer, bowel cancer and cervical cancer.

The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 reports geographical variation in PSA testing among men aged 50-79 between 2017 and 2018.

The data about PSA testing come from the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS). The Commonwealth Department of Health shared the MBS data covering 2002-2018. This data specifically looks at item number 66655, which is for checking for prostate issues in men who don’t have symptoms.

Man with doctor
Doctor surgery

Hospital Treatment

The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 reports geographical patterns of prostate cancer treatment conducted among men admitted to public or private hospitals across Australia for the years 2008-2017. These include radical prostatectomy, high dose rate brachytherapy and low dose rate brachytherapy. Note that this does not include other common treatments for prostate cancer such as external beam radiation therapy.

Radical prostatectomy involves removing part or all of the prostate and is common for localized or locally advanced prostate cancer.

Brachytherapy, a type of radiotherapy, implants a radioactive source near or inside the cancer to target cancer cells while minimizing exposure to surrounding tissues. High dose rate brachytherapy releases a strong dose of radiation in short sessions, while low dose rate brachytherapy releases a lower dose over a more extended period.

Data were extracted using the Australian Classification of Health Intervention (ICD-10-AM/ACHI) refined Diagnosis Related Groups codes. Specifically, high dose rate brachytherapy (HDR brachytherapy) was identified using codes 15327-01, 15327-03, 15327-06, 15327-07, 15536-00, 15536-01, 15536-02. Low dose rate brachytherapy (LDR brachytherapy) was identified using codes 15327-00, 15327-02, 15327-04, 15327-05, 15338-00. Radical prostatectomy was identified using 37209-00, 37210-00, 37211-00, 37209-01, 37210-01, 37211-01.

Cancer Characteristics

The following cancer types are included in the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0.

Cancer description  ICD-10 code(s) 
All malignant cancers combined  C00–C97, D45, D46, D47.1, D47.3–D47.5 
Bladder cancer  C67
Bowel cancer (Colorectal cancer)  C18-C20
Brain cancer C71
Breast cancer (Female only) C50
Breast cancer in situ (Female only)  D05
Cervical cancer  c53
Classic myeloproliferative neoplasms ICD-O-3 codes: 9950, 9960-9962
Head and neck cancer  C00-C14, C30-C32
Kidney cancer C64
Leukaemia  C91-C95
Liver cancer C22
Lung cancer C33-C34
Melanoma in situ D03
Melanoma of the skin C43
Mesothelioma C45
Myeloma C90
Neuroendocrine tumours Histology codes: 8013,8040-8045, 8150-8156, 8158-8240-8249, 8345-8347, 8680-8683, 8690-8693, 8700, 9091 for all topography codes or 8510 for topography C73 
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma C82-C86
Oesophageal cancer C15
Ovarian cancer C56
Pancreatic cancer C25
Prostate cancer C61
Rare blood cancers C81
Rare cancers  All malignant neoplasms with an incidence rate of <6 cases per 100,000 Australians (except basal and squamous carcinomas of skin)
Soft tissue sarcomas RARECAREnet project definition and Cancer data in Australia definition of soft tissue sarcoma (Table 5 and 6 on Cancer data in Australia, Updating sarcoma reporting – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ( 
Stomach cancer C16
Testicular cancer C62
Thyroid cancer C73
Uterine cancer C54-C55
Vulva C51

An invasive cancer is a type that has grown, or invaded, into the cell tissue of the organ involved. These are the cancers usually reported by cancer registries in Australia. The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 includes over 20 different invasive cancer types (see table below).

On the other hand, in situ cancers are found when they have not yet invaded the cell tissue. In Australia, registries usually only collect and report on in situ cancers for melanoma and breast cancer, both of which are included in the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0.

The stage at which cancer is diagnosed shows how far it has spread. There are four stages, with stage 1 being localized and stage 4 being more widespread. Generally, the higher the stage, the more severe the cancer and the worse the chances of survival. In Australia, data on the stage at diagnosis for certain cancers are only available for the whole country in 2011. Melanoma, breast cancer, and prostate cancer were the only ones considered complete enough for reporting in the Australian Cancer Atlas.

For melanoma, the thickness of the tumour also indicates how severe it is. The Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0 includes information on thickness for melanomas found between 2010 and 2019, categorized as thin (≤1mm) or thick (>1mm).

The following cancer types are included in the Australian Cancer Atlas 2.0.