Aboriginal communities

The Cancer Institute NSW acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the first peoples of this country and pays its respect to Elders, past, present and emerging.

The NSW Cancer Plan aims to improve cancer outcomes across the community. It recognises there are people and communities who have a higher risk of cancers and have poorer cancer-related health outcomes.

We recognise that Aboriginal people experience a higher burden of cancer with higher mortality rates.1 We understand the importance of including the social and cultural elements that underpin Aboriginal health when developing programs of work with Aboriginal communities.

Key facts

Key facts

  • Aboriginal Australians are 2.4 times as likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer and 2.4 times as likely to die from liver cancer as other Australians.
  • Aboriginal Australians are 2.1 times as likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer and 1.8 times as likely to die from lung cancer as other Australians.
  • Aboriginal females are 2.5 times as likely to develop cervical cancer and 3.8 times as likely to die from the disease. They also have a lower chance of surviving five years after diagnosis (56% compared with 72%) than other Australian females.
  • Aboriginal females diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007–2014 had a 81% chance of surviving for five years, compared with 90% for other Australian females.[1] 

Achievement through collaboration

Improving the health of Aboriginal communities in relation to cancer requires collaboration from all parts of the cancer control system.

In partnership with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and Aboriginal communities across the state, our strategies will be implemented in line with state and national plans, frameworks and other NSW Health policy directives relevant to Aboriginal health.

What we are achieving for Aboriginal communities

We are working across cancer prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and research to improve cancer outcomes for Aboriginal people. Over the past 12 months, we have achieved the following:

Reconcilliation Action Plan
Implementing the Cancer Institute NSW Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan

The Institute's Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) demonstrates our commitment to reconciliation by creating meaningful opportunities for staff and members of the community. It aims to strengthen respect and understanding between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians, and will support the delivery of equitable and safe cancer services for Aboriginal communities in NSW. A revised RAP is being prepared for implementation in 2020–2021.

Supporting cancer prevention, screening and treatment pathways
  • We continue to engage with Aboriginal ambassadors to support the delivery of cancer screening, early detection and prevention campaigns. 



  • We engaged with Aboriginal women and made a video about the importance of regular breast screening, highlighting that women can now book their free mammogram online.



  • We continue to support National Cervical Screening training workshops to educate health care providers on changes to the National Cervical Screening Program. It also promotes the benefits of regular cervical screening to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. Eighteen training workshops have been conducted across NSW; attended by approximately 200 women from local health districts, primary health networks and Aboriginal Medical Services.
  • We continue to work with representatives from the Aboriginal community to develop culturally-appropriate information resources to support the Aboriginal population, such as fact sheets, brochures, flyers and promotional resources.
  • We have developed culturally-appropriate testimonials and a dedicated web page for Aboriginal communitites to support the Do the Test bowel cancer screening campaign.
  • We promoted Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and Aboriginal Medical Services on Canrefer.
  • We have developed brochures for the Aboriginal community that explain the lung cancer pathway (Finding lung cancer and Having lung cancer) in consultation with 17 Aboriginal Medical Services across NSW. These resources assist Aboriginal people to identify the symptoms of lung cancer and, if diagnosed, make informed decisions about their treatment. This project is currently being evaluated.


Finding lung cancer brochure. An information booklet for an Aboriginal audience.
Having lung cancer brochure. An information booklet for an Aboriginal audience.
Reconcilliation Action Plan
Supporting the National Indigenous Bowel Cancer Screening Pilot

Menzies School of Health Research and the Australian Government Department of Health are working together to deliver the National Indigenous Bowel Cancer Screening Pilot in 50 sites across Australia.

This pilot is also known as the 'Alternative Pathway' and aims to make the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program more accessible for Aboriginal people through the direct provision of bowel test kits to eligible persons at participating primary health centres.

We continue to promote Indigenous Bowel Screen for culturally appropriate information and resources, including stories from Indigenous Australians who have experienced cancer, and their families.

Supporting Aboriginal communities to improve cancer control

  • We continue to deliver the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Quitline. The service now includes a male advisor and a female advisor, who is available to work with pregnant Aboriginal women. We are implementing the Aboriginal Quitline Engagement Strategy to increase calls and referral pathways to the Aboriginal Quitline.
  • We manage the Koori Quitline Facebook page to engage with communities and encourage people to seek support to quit smoking. This page uses community-generated content filmed at Aboriginal cultural events.

  • We continue to work across all areas of cancer prevention, screening, early detection, treatment and research to explore strategies that support primary health care providers. For example, the NSW Primary Care Strategy for the bowel, breast and cervical screening programs identifies Aboriginal people as a priority group.
Engaging with Aboriginal communities to inform cancer control initiatives
  • The Aboriginal Advisory Group continues to provide advice on data for projects. This is a joint collaboration with the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council.

  • We continue to consult our Aboriginal Program Development Committee on key projects to ensure cultural integrity in our work. This engagement ensures the Institute is a culturally safe and supportive organisation, and our work towards the NSW Cancer Plan remains relevant and effective for the Aboriginal community.

  • We participated in the 2019 NAIDOC event at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence and provided information and resources to the community regarding cancer screening and support to quit smoking. Aunty Joy, an elder who generously shared her story in BreastScreen NSW resources, dropped by our stall.

Building workforce capacity
  • The second Aboriginal Cancer Network Forum was held in April 2019, bringing together health professionals working to support Aboriginal people affected by cancer. The Forum is an opportunity to display the great work happening across NSW, and to share information and identify priorities towards reducing the burden of cancer on Aboriginal communities. Contact us to be part of the Aboriginal Cancer Network.

  • We established the NSW Aboriginal Cervical Screening Network to provide an opportunity for those who work in Aboriginal health to share resources, information and successful models of engagement; to ultimately increase cervical screening rates among Aboriginal women in NSW. The inaugural NSW Aboriginal Cervical Screening Forum was held in September 2019, bringing together members of the NSW Aboriginal Cervical Screening Network to increase their knowledge and skill base for their cervical screening projects and programs.

To learn more about cancer, treatment and support services for Aboriginal people, visit Cancer information for the community.

National plans, policies and frameworks

State plans, policies and frameworks

State plans, policies and frameworks

In NSW, the two key plans that currently inform and shape how the health system and health services plan and deliver care and support for Aboriginal people in NSW are the NSW Cancer Plan and the NSW Aboriginal Health Plan 2013–2023.

Across the state, we will continue to work with the Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council. At the local level, we will collaborate with local health districts, primary health networks and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations.

NSW Cancer Plan initiatives for Aboriginal communities

Across each goal of the NSW Cancer Plan, specific initiatives have been developed to build on current relationships in partnership with Aboriginal communities, including:

  • public education campaigns and support services to reduce smoking
  • strategies to encourage participation in national cancer screening programs
  • strategies to more effectively engage with the primary health care sector
  • culturally-appropriate early assessment, diagnosis, surveillance and treatment pathways
  • culturally-appropriate tools and resources that support Aboriginal people affected by cancer
  • initiatives to better engage Aboriginal people in service planning and delivery
  • culturally-appropriate methods of collecting patient-reported outcomes.

Progress of the NSW Cancer Plan is regularly monitored and evaluated. Find more information on the indicators used to track against the Plan's objectives.


1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare & Cancer Australia. Cancer in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. Cancberra: AIHW, 2018. Avaialble at https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/cancer/cancer-in-indigenous-australians/contents/cancer-type/cervical-cancer-c53 (accessed 1 November 2019).