An estimated 145,000 Australians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2018, with that number set to increase by 50% to over 210,000 per year by 2040. To help reduce this burden, it is imperative that we do more to understand the key drivers of the observed geographical variation in cancer. Knowing the reasons for geographical variation in the cancer burden will help lessen exposure to these reasons and inform policy actions that ensure better outcomes for individuals and communities.
Launched in September 2018, the Australian Cancer Atlas is a cutting-edge digital analysis tool that maps the burden of cancer geographically. This world-leading, freely accessible, online Atlas provides health agencies and policy makers a better understanding of geographic disparities and health requirements across Australia. It has helped people to learn about the cancer burden where they live and has been a tool to raise awareness of how cancer risk can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices.
Achieving the best possible health for all is a priority for Australia. The Australian Cancer Atlas is a world-first innovation that uses cutting edge digital technology to map patterns in cancer diagnosis and survival across 2,148 small geographic areas that cover the Australian continent. It is the most comprehensive examination of cancer patterns that has ever been achieved. Designed to be informative and easy to use, the Atlas is visually appealing, interactive and freely available to all. It features explanatory graphics and narratives and was developed with mobile technology in mind.
The development of the Australian Cancer Atlas was a collaboration between Queensland University of Technology, Cancer Council Queensland and the Cancer Councils of Australia, the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare and FrontierSI. It involved a multidisciplinary team of over forty people, including statisticians, cancer researchers, visualisation experts, project managers and IT specialists with extensive input from government, community members, consumers and media. The Atlas was been endorsed by the Australasian Association of Cancer Registries and Cancer Council Australia.
The Australian Cancer Atlas demonstrates Australia’s leadership in spatial technology while using health data in fresh and creative ways to guide research, advocacy and health service delivery.
The interactive Atlas shows national patterns in cancer incidence and survival rates based on where Australians live for 20 of the most common cancers, likely reflecting characteristics, lifestyles and access to health services in each area. The Atlas was the first to quantify small area spatial patterns in cancer incidence and survival across Australia by combining geographical details with state-of-the-art statistical methods and innovative visualisations to overcome the unique challenges with small area data and show whether small areas are above or below the national cancer average.
Initial work on the Australian Cancer Atlas started in 2015, involving discussions with the data custodians to get their initial support for the project. The process of obtaining final ethics (4 ethics committees) and data custodian (eight data custodians) approvals took more than two years.
The Atlas is an innovative tool that is changing the way we think about cancer in our population. For the first time, we can view the nation in its entirety and see how different types of cancer are distributed across Australia. The Australian Cancer Atlas has brought new insights about cancer patterns and has helped people to learn about the cancer burden where they live and has been a tool to raise awareness of how cancer risk can be reduced through healthy lifestyle choices.