More Brits than ever are living with cancer

Behind the Headlines

Tuesday January 14 2014

Diagnoses of cancer are rising in the UK

Deaths from cancer are falling, despite rise in diagnosis rates

"UK’s annual cancer diagnosis numbers rise by 50,000 in a decade,” reports The Guardian.

The headline is based on new figures released by Cancer Research UK, which show that in 2011 (the latest available statistics) 331,487 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer. In 2001 there were 283,000 diagnoses. The current figures mean there are about 524 cases of cancer per 100,000 people.

The figures are published as Cancer Research UK continues its campaign to raise awareness of the importance of research in beating cancer and reducing its impact.


What did Cancer Research UK find?

Cancer Research has published the latest figures on cancer in general and the different common types of cancer, including information about:

  • incidence
  • mortality
  • survival
  • risk factors

Cancer Research UK found that the overall rates of people being diagnosed with cancer have climbed by a more than a third (35%) between 1975 and 2011. The age-standardised incidence rates, (which take into account how many old or young people are in the population so that differences seen are not due to difference in the proportion of young and old people) increased from around 295 per 100,000 in 1975 to almost 400 per 100,000 in 2011.

Importantly, the charity found that four cancers account for more than half of all new cases – breast, lung, bowel and prostate.

Around 159,000 people died from cancer in the UK in 2011. The death rate from cancer is falling. In 1975 there were 215 deaths per 100,000 people (measured using an age-standardised mortality rate) compared to 170 cases per 100,000 in 2011.


What could be causing the increase in cancer diagnoses?

Age is the biggest risk factor for cancer. And as people are tending to live longer, this is contributing to the higher numbers of cancers found.

Smoking, being overweight, a diet low in fruit and vegetables, and alcohol consumption are the four lifestyle factors linked to the most cancers.

Cancer Research does not discuss other possible causes for the increase in the number of diagnoses. And it is possible the changes could be a reflection of changes in lifestyle factors (such as increased prevalence of overweight and obesity), but also due to improved cancer awareness and diagnostic methods compared to the 1970s. One encouraging point is that deaths from cancer are decreasing, which may reflect earlier diagnosis and treatment, and improved treatments.


What does Cancer Research UK say about the figures?

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "These figures reinforce the vital need for more research to better prevent, treat and cure cancer. As the population ages, more people than ever before will be told: 'you have cancer'." 


Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow Behind the Headlines on Twitter.

Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices

Links to the headlines

UK's annual cancer diagnosis numbers rise by 50,000 in a decade. The Guardian, January 14 2014

More Britons stricken by cancer... but survival rate is better than ever. Daily Express, January 14 2014

50,000 more people a year are told they have got cancer: Huge increase in the past decade blamed on obesity and alcohol consumption. Daily Mail, January 14 2014

UK cancer diagnoses top 330,000. BBC News, January 14 2014

Cancer: Ageing Population Blamed For Increase. Sky News, January 14 2014 

Further reading

Cancer Research UK. CancerStats: Cancer Statistics for the UK. Published online January 14 2014

Press release

Cancer Research UK. A third of a million people now diagnosed with cancer every year. January 14 2014


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