Lung cancer still leads a deadly pack

Rates of breast cancer are increasing in WA women after an earlier downward dip, but lung cancer is now firmly established as their biggest cancer killer, new data shows.

WA Cancer Registry figures show that for the first time, more than 4000 West Australians died of cancer in 2012, up 9 per cent on the previous year.

Almost 12,000 people were diagnosed with cancer - 6689 men and 5250 women - with prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women making up 31 per cent of cases for each gender.

Though fewer people were diagnosed with lung cancer, it claimed most lives in both men and women, with 849 deaths.

The report said breast cancer in women was increasing since a low point in 2007, but lung cancer was well established as the most common cause of death in women and continued to be a big killer of men.

Another emerging trend was in pancreatic cancer, not a common cancer but now the fourth biggest cause of cancer death in both men and women, with 242 deaths.

Dr Tim Threlfall, from the registry, said despite the increase in the number of cancer cases, rates in WA men per 100,000 were significantly lower than in the past two years. The cancer rate in females remained stable.

"Breast cancer remains the most common cancer for women and prostate cancer for men but colorectal cancer was the most common cancer affecting both males and females," he said.

Lung cancer cases and deaths were falling in men but rates in women were still increasing.

Cancer Council WA, which announced $3.2 million in research grants yesterday, said the report showed signs of progress.

Director of education and research Terry Slevin said though lung cancer deaths were reducing in men, they were increasing in women largely because of changed smoking patterns 10 to 20 years ago.

"We're also seeing the lowest overall rate of new cancers in a decade among men and we'll need to see if that is a persisting trend," he said.

But deaths from pancreatic cancer remained an issue because it was the fourth most common cause of cancer death and was moving up the ladder.

"Despite reductions in smoking rates, which should also be driving down rates of cancer of the pancreas, we're not making the progress we'd hope for," Mr Slevin said.

"A more active program in tackling this very aggressive form of cancer would be of great benefit."

The West Australian

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