Estimating the change in life expectancy after a diagnosis of cancer among the Australian population

Peter D. Baade*, Danny R. Youlden, Therese M.L. Andersson, Philippa H. Youl, Michael G. Kimlin, Joanne F. Aitken, Robert J. Biggar

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

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Communication of relevant prognostic information is critical in helping patients understand the implications of their cancer diagnosis. We describe measures of prognosis to help communicate relevant prognostic information to improve patients' understanding of the implications of their cancer diagnosis. 


Australia-wide population-based cancer registry cohort.


870 878 patients aged 15-89 years diagnosed with invasive cancer between 1990 and 2007, with mortality follow-up information to December 2010. 

Primary and secondary outcome measures

Flexible parametric models were used to estimate loss of life expectancy (LOLE), remaining life expectancy (RLE) and 10-year cumulative probability of cancer-specific death (1-relative survival). 


On average, Australians diagnosed with cancer at age 40 years faced losing an average of 11.2 years of life (95% CI 11.1 to 11.4) due to their cancer, while those diagnosed at 80 years faced losing less, an average of 3.9 years (3.9 to 4.0) because of higher competing mortality risks. In contrast, younger people had lower estimated cumulative probabilities of cancer-specific death within 10 years (40 years: 21.5%, 21.4% to 22.1%) compared with older people (80 years: 55.4%, 55.0% to 55.9%). The patterns for individual cancers varied widely, both by cancer type and by age within cancer type. 


The LOLE and RLE measures provide complementary messages to standard relative survival estimates (expressed here in terms of cumulative probability of cancer-specific death). Importantly, relative survival per se underplays the greater absolute impact that a cancer diagnosis has at a younger age on LOLE. When presented in isolation for all cancers, it may provide a misleading impression of future mortality burden of cancer overall, and furthermore, it will obscure patterns of mortality by type and by age data within type. Alternative measures of LOLE, therefore, provide important communication about mortality risk to patients with cancer worldwide and should be incorporated into standard reporting and dissemination strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere006740
Pages (from-to)1-7
Number of pages7
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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