Cancer Rates and Statistics: What They All Mean For You

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 5 May 2021

Table of Contents:

  1. Cancer Statistics
  2. Cancer Registries
  3. Some Common Statistics and Rates
  4. Statistics To Guide Treatment
  5. Limitations

Cancer Statistics


Cancer estimates and rates provide information on how the disease affects others. They examine the number, age, demographics and socioeconomic status of people who develop a particular type of cancer, as well as their response to treatment.


Health and government specialists examine these figures to gain a better understanding of cancer's effects on society. This enables them to devise more effective methods of disease prevention and management.

Doctors can use data to make assumptions about things like the probability of developing cancer and the chances of overcoming it. Even though they can’t predict what the future holds for you, they may make an informed guess based on the experiences of those who have had the same cancer.

Cancer Registries


They are held in databases referred to as cancer registries. When you receive a cancer diagnosis, the information is entered into a computer system by a specially qualified individual called a cancer registrar. This information includes information about your age, race, ethnic origin; alongside specific information about your cancer including type, size, stage and treatments you have received.


Numerous hospitals have developed their own registries. Their data is incorporated into national registries, such as those run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute. This is referred to as population-based registries. They do not include your name, address, or any other personally identifiable information. This data is combined each year to create the United States Cancer Statistics.

Some Common Statistics and Rates


Incidence rate 


This is the amount of new cases of a certain type of cancer in a particular population in a given year. To calculate the average, divide the number of new cases by the population size. The result is then multiplied by a specified number of people. The figure is usually 100,000 in the case of cancer. For example, approximately 1.7 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed per year in the United States. The rate of occurrence is 439 per 100,000 inhabitants.


Mortality rate


This is the annual death toll from cancer. Cancer mortality rates are typically expressed in terms of deaths per 100,000 people.


Common cancer types


These are the tumours that are most often diagnosed in the United States. To qualify for the list, there must be at least 40,000 new cases a year. Breast, lung, and prostate cancer are the three most common forms of cancer.


Lifetime risk


This is the probability of developing or dying from a particular type of cancer. It is expressed in terms of a percentage or ratio. For instance, women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing breast cancer at some point in their lives.


Survival rate


These figures indicate the number of people who survive cancer for a given period of time. Survival rates are focused on hundreds or thousands of individuals diagnosed with a particular type of cancer. They may be of any age or have any health condition. Certain survival rates are influenced by the patient's age or stage of cancer. The following are the ones you're most probably to see:


  • Five-year survival rate: This is the percentage of people who survive five years after being diagnosed with or beginning treatment for a particular type of cancer. It is often expressed as a percentage. Survival rates may also be broken down by time frame, such as one or ten years. However, the most common survival age is five years.
  • Overall survival rate: This is the proportion of people who have not died from any cause after a specified period of time. It encompasses all those who are still receiving care and those who are cancer-free.
  • Relative survival rate: This is the number of people who have not died of a particular type of cancer after a specified period of time. It excludes those who died of other causes. As with total survival, it requires both cancer survivors and non-survivors.
  • Disease-free survival rate: This is the amount of time people live without showing any signs or symptoms following cancer treatment. It is also used to determine the efficacy of a new treatment. It is often referred to as recurrence-free or progression-free survival.


Statistics To Guide Treatment


Your outlook, or prognosis, is a prediction of how your cancer will progress. Doctors utilize statistics to forecast the probability of overcoming the disease and determining if it will recur. Including the form and stage of your cancer, the doctor will take your age and general health into account.


Additionally, statistics will assist you and your doctor in developing a treatment plan. They will demonstrate how other people with the same form and stage of cancer reacted to treatment.



Statistics are calculated on the basis of large groups. Although they can have insight into what happens to the majority of people, they cannot forecast the future. You can react differently to treatment than another person.


Additionally, some statistics omit critical variables such as cancer type, age, and overall health. For instance, if you are in perfect health, you might have a better chance of survival than the statistics indicate. Ask a few questions with your doctor whether there are more precise figures available or if they can make a more accurate guess depending on your circumstances.


Since figures are compiled over years, they do not contain the most recent procedures. Patients must have been diagnosed at least five years earlier to be included in the 5-year survival figures. As a result, the statistics do not reflect the results of new therapies. Therefore, historical data may not be the most reliable indicator of future trends.


You determine how much information about your cancer statistics you want to get. You can opt to disregard them due to their impersonal nature. Alternatively, you may wish to acquire as much knowledge as possible. Consult with your doctor about your statistics and their interpretation.


Referenced on 4/5/2021

  1. National Cancer Institute: “Cancer Statistics,” “Common Cancer Types,” “Defining Cancer Statistics,” “Understanding Cancer Prognosis,” “What is a Cancer Registry?”
  2. Mayo Clinic: “Cancer Survival Rate: What It Means for Your Prognosis.”
  3. CDC: “How Cancer Registries Work.”
  4. Cancer.Net: “Understanding Statistics Used to Guide Prognosis and Evaluate Treatment.”

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