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Open Access Research article

A study of head and neck cancer treatment and survival among indigenous and non-indigenous people in Queensland, Australia, 1998 to 2004

Suzanne P Moore13*, Adèle C Green15, Gail Garvey1, Michael D Coory4 and Patricia C Valery12*

Author Affiliations

1 Cancer and Population Studies, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Herston Rd, Brisbane, 4060, Australia

2 The Australian Centre for International and Tropical Health, University of Queensland, Herston Rd, Brisbane, 4006, Australia

3 School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston Rd, Brisbane, 4006, Australia

4 Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Flemington Rd, Melbourne, 3052, Australia

5 Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, University of Manchester, Brunswick St, Manchester, M13 9PL, UK

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BMC Cancer 2011, 11:460  doi:10.1186/1471-2407-11-460

Published: 25 October 2011



Overall, Indigenous Australians with cancer are diagnosed with more advanced disease, receive less cancer treatment and have poorer cancer survival than non-Indigenous Australians. The prognosis for Indigenous people with specific cancers varies however, and their prognosis for cancers of the head and neck is largely unknown. We therefore have compared clinical characteristics, treatment and survival between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people diagnosed with head and neck cancer in Queensland, Australia.


Rates were based on a cohort of Indigenous people (n = 67), treated in public hospitals between 1998 and 2004 and frequency-matched on age and location to non-Indigenous cases (n = 62) also treated in the public health system. Data were obtained from hospital records and the National Death Index. We used Pearson's Chi-squared analysis to compare categorical data (proportions) and Cox proportional hazard models to assess survival differences.


There were no significant differences in socioeconomic status, stage at diagnosis or number and severity of comorbidities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients, although Indigenous patients were more likely to have diabetes. Indigenous people were significantly less likely to receive any cancer treatment (75% vs. 95%, P = 0.005) and, when cancer stage, socioeconomic status, comorbidities and cancer treatment were taken into account, they experienced greater risk of death from head and neck cancer (HR 1.88, 1.10, 3.22) and from all other causes (HR 5.83, 95% CI 1.09, 31.04).


These findings show for the first time that Indigenous Australians with head and neck cancer receive less cancer treatment and suggest survival disparity could be reduced if treatment uptake was improved. There is a need for a greater understanding of the reasons for such treatment and survival disparities, including the impact of the poorer overall health on cancer outcomes for Indigenous Australians.