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Why do registrations data sometimes differ from other published data for the same time period?

Cancer registrations are usually completed within two years of diagnosis but, in a small proportion of cases, the process can take longer. Consequently the cancer registration databases held in the UK, and by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are continually being updated.

Cancer Research UK uses an extract of data from ONS as the source of the data for England to collate the UK figures.

Other extracts from ONS, or from alternative sources, will have been taken at different times and, thus, will have minor differences between them and as registrations are updated and revised any resulting presentation of data may differ slightly from other published data relating to the same time period. Although the revisions are good for the quality of data such differences are nearly always trivial in terms of numbers.

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Why don't you have more up to date statistics?

Incidence statistics presented on our Cancer Statistics website are compiled from data produced by the regional cancer registries in England, and the three national registries in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which means that before we can publish UK statistics we have to wait until all of the data has been published by each country. The process of registering a cancer is complex and there are a number of processes in place to ensure the data is of a high quality but this means there is usually a delay of around 12-18 months before the data is complete enough for them to be published.

Mortality statistics are derived from the statutory death registrations in the countries of the UK. As it is a legal requirement to register deaths quickly, the mortality data for the UK can be compiled more quickly, but there is still a delay of around 12 months before we are able to publish the data.

The survival data we mainly use are calculated using the official data from the Office for National Statistics for England and/or England and Wales, and are produced approximately on an annual basis.

Worldwide and European incidence and mortality statistics are calculated every 4-6 years by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Collecting cancer data from around the world takes some time, and like UK statistics, processes are implemented to ensure the data are as complete as possible. This means additional delays before the worldwide and European data are published.

Full references to the data are at the foot of each web page.

To notify our users when the data on our web pages have been updated, and to highlight recent press stories, and our latest publications, we have an e-newsletter that we send out around 6 times a year. You can sign up to the newsletter to receive this information. The latest Cancer Stats publications including the latest Cancer Stats Newsletter are available on the Latest Reports page and in our Publications section.

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Why do the mortality statistics on this web site differ from those published elsewhere?

There are two ways of counting mortality statistics; through death registrations or through death occurrences. Mortality statistics we presentare death registrations. This means that all deaths from cancer registered in a particular year are included. Occasionally a death may occur at the end of one year but be registered in another year, for example, a death occurring on December 31st 2012 will probably be registered in January 2013. Mortality statistics published by the Office for National Statistics are occurrences of deaths rather than registrations. Therefore there may be some small discrepancies with those published on this web site.

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Is there any difference between the printed Cancer Stats reports and other publications and the information I can access online?

Our printed reports and publications are collations of the information we hold at a particular point in time, and they are all dated and referenced so it’s clear when all of the information was up to that date and what period it’s for. There will be occasions where we will have updated the information on the website since we have issued a report or publication and this will mean that the content on the web pages and that in the reports will be different as we work through updating everything. If there is a difference, the web pages will be the more up to date content.

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Why do you say the information in the Cancer Stats section is aimed at health professionals?

The information on these pages of the Cancer Research UK website was originally adapted from the charity's successful series of ‘CancerStats’ Reports, which  were designed for use by health professionals. Since then the web pages and publications have expanded but we still write for people who already have a fairly good knowledge of cancer and/or statistics.

The information on our pages and publications are designed to provide a detailed summary of the data and epidemiological evidence for health professionals but we do have a series of Key Facts pages and publications which are less complicated and for all audiences. 

Many of the terms used on our page and publications can be found in our glossary and information and explanations on terminology used for statistics and reporting of cancer, and the methods used to calculate some of the statistics are also available. 

Of course, our information can be viewed by anyone who is interested, but other areas of Cancer Research UK's web site might be more relevant and useful. Reliable, easy to understand information for patients/families is provided by CancerHelp, there is prevention and lifestyle information for everyone, or you might be interested in our research on cancer.

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How do I reference the information from these pages?

When Cancer Research UK material is used, we encourage a donation to our life-saving research. Our research is entirely funded by the public, so please donate today and together we can bring forward the day when all cancers are cured. 

If you would like to reference us as a primary source then please use the following:

Cancer Research UK, followed by the web address in full of the page you want to use, and then the month and year you accessed the site. So, for example, if you were referencing some data on the incidence of skin cancer which you read on the 1st of September 2013 the reference would be: Cancer Research UK,, September 2013. 

Alternatively all the content on these pages are fully referenced with the primary sources from which we have collated it.

If you would like to reference the published paper copy of a Cancer Stats report or any of our other publications, (which are all free and downloadable from the publications site) we suggest this format: 

Cancer Research UK (year of publication), Cancer Stats report - Name of report, Cancer Research UK. So, for example, if you were referencing our July 2013 Skin cancer report the reference would be: Cancer Research UK (2013). Cancer Stats report - Skin Cancer, Cancer Research UK.

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Why can the number of deaths be higher than the number of cases for some non-specific cancer types?

Mortality may be higher than case numbers because of the way death certification and cancer registration works, and what data is available and when.  

For example, if a patient has died from cancer but the official documenting the death on the certificate can’t confirm what type of cancer caused the death, it may be recorded as a non-specific cancer type (for example Cancer of Unknown Primary (CUP)). However, on receipt of the death certificate the cancer registries may then be able to identify other information about that patients’ history and determine what type of cancer it was, and update the record regarding their case diagnosis. The data would therefore show a patient recorded as having a known type of cancer for their case data, e.g. being a stomach cancer case in the incidence data, but as a different cancer type in the mortality data, e.g. being a CUP death in the mortality data. This inconsistency will remain because the death certificate cannot be changed and the effect is potentially inflated mortality statistics for non-specific cancers like CUP at the detriment of the mortality statistics for specific cancers.

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Updated: 11 February 2014