Cancer treatment and the risk of cancer death among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal South Australians: Analysis of a matched cohort study

for the CanDAD Aboriginal Community Reference Group and other CanDAD Investigators

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Background: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians have poorer cancer outcomes than other Australians. Comparatively little is known of the type and amount of cancer treatment provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the consequences for cancer survival. This study quantifies the influence of surgical, systemic and radiotherapy treatment on risk of cancer death among matched cohorts of cancer cases and, the comparative exposure of cohorts to these treatments.

Methods: Cancers registered among Aboriginal South Australians in 1990-2010 (N = 777) were matched with randomly selected non-Indigenous cases by sex, birth and diagnostic year, and primary site, then linked to administrative cancer treatment for the period from 2 months before to 13 months after diagnosis. Competing risk regression summarised associations of Indigenous status, geographic remoteness, comorbidities, cancer stage and treatment exposure with risk of cancer death.

Results: Fewer Aboriginal cases had localised disease at diagnosis (37.2% versus 50.2%) and they were less likely to: experience hospitalisation with cancer diagnosis, unadjusted odds ratio (UOR) = 0.76; 95%CI = 0.59-0.98; have surgery UOR = 0.65; 95%CI = 0.53-0.80; systemic therapies UOR = 0.64; 95%CI = 0.52-0.78; or radiotherapy, UOR = 0.76; 95%CI = 0.63-0.94. Localised disease carried lower risk of cancer death compared to advanced cases receiving surgery or systemic therapies, SHR = 0.34; 95%CI = 0.25-0.47 and SHR = 0.35; 95%CI = 0.25-0.48. Advanced disease and no treatment carried higher risk of cancer death, SHR = 1.82; 95%CI = 1.26-2.63.

Conclusion: The effects of treatment did not differ between Aboriginal and non-Indigenous cohorts. However, comparatively less exposure to surgical and systemic treatments among Aboriginal cancer cases further complicated the disadvantages associated with geographic remoteness, advanced stage of disease and co-morbid conditions at diagnosis and add to disparities in cancer death. System level responses to improving access, utilisation and quality of effective treatments are needed to improve survival after cancer diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number771
Number of pages16
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Aboriginal
  • Cancer
  • Cancer treatment
  • Disparity
  • Indigenous
  • Survival


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