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Cancer incidence for common cancers

Incidence statistics for the most common cancers in the UK, by sex and trends over time are presented here. There are also data for non-melanoma skin cancer, cancer of unknown primary and for variation in the UK.

Find out more about the coding and counting of this data.

Twenty most common cancers

There are more than 200 different types of cancer, but four of them - breast, lung, prostate and bowel - account for over half (53%) of all new cases in the UK (2011) (Figure 2.1).1-4 Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, despite the fact that it is rare in men. 


Figure 2.1: The 20 Most Common Cancers, UK, 2011

inc_20common_mf.swf

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Data in this chart do not sum to the all cancers combined total provided elsewhere, because 'Brain, other CNS (central nervous system) and intracranial' includes tumours that are malignant, benign and of uncertain or unknown behaviour but only the malignant tumours are included in 'all cancers combined' total.

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.

More detailed information on incidence for individual cancer types is available in the types of cancer pages.

section reviewed 14/01/14
section updated 14/01/14

Ten most common cancers in males

Prostate cancer, with an age-standardised (AS) incidence rate of 105 per 100,000 males, accounts for one in four (25%) male cases (Figures 2.2 and 2.3).1-4 The next most common cancers are lung (14%; even though the rate of lung cancer has fallen almost continuously since the early-1980s) and bowel (14%). Prostate, lung and bowel cancers together account for over half (53%) of all new cases in males in the UK. Bladder and oesophageal cancers, and leukaemia, are among the ten most common cancers in males, but not in females. Cancer of unknown primary accounts for 3% of new cancer cases in males.

Figure 2.2: The 10 Most Common Cancers in Males, UK, 2011

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3% of all male cases are registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer. Brain tumours: brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours, including malignant, benign and uncertain or unknown behaviour tumours.

Data in this chart do not sum to ‘all cancers combined’ total provided elsewhere, because ‘Brain, other CNS (central nervous system) and intracranial’ includes tumours that are malignant, benign and of uncertain or unknown behaviour, but only the malignant tumours are included in ‘all cancers combined’ total.

Figure 2.3: Most Common Cancers in Males, Percentages of All Cancer Cases (C00-C97 excl. C44), UK, 2011

Inc11-Fig2.3

3% of all male cancer deaths are registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.

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section reviewed 14/01/14
section updated 14/01/14

Ten most common cancers in females

Breast cancer, with an AS incidence rate of 125 per 100,000 women, is by far the most common cancer in females, accounting for almost a third (30%) of all female cases (Figures 2.4 and 2.5).1-4 The next most common cancers in women are lung and bowel, each accounting for similar proportions of cases (12% and 11%, respectively). Breast, lung and bowel cancers together account for over half (53%) of all new cases in females in the UK.Two of the ten most common cancers in females are sex-specific (uterus and ovary), compared with just one of the ten most common (prostate) in males. Cancer of unknown primary accounts for 3% of new cancer cases in females.

Figure 2.4: The 10 Most Common Cancers in Females, UK, 2011

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3% of all female cases are registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer. Brain tumours: brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours, including malignant, benign and uncertain or unknown behaviour tumours.

Data in this chart do not sum to ‘all cancers combined’ total provided elsewhere, because ‘Brain, other CNS (central nervous system) and intracranial’ includes tumours that are malignant, benign and of uncertain or unknown behaviour, but only the malignant tumours are included in ‘all cancers combined’ total.

Figure 2.5: Most Common Cancers in Females, Percentages of All Cancer Cases (C00-C97 excl. C44), UK, 2011

Inc11-Fig2.5

3% of all female cancer deaths are registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.

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section reviewed 14/01/14
section updated 14/01/14

Trends over time

Incidence trends over the last decade in the UK vary by cancer type and sex (Figures 2.6 and 2.7).1-4 There have been large increases in the AS incidence rates of many cancers strongly linked to lifestyle, such as kidney, liver, malignant melanoma, oral and uterine.5 The decrease in bladder cancer incidence largely reflects a change in coding practice that reduced the number of registrations of malignant bladder cancer from 2000 onwards, though decreasing smoking prevalence may also have played a part.6

Figure 2.6: The 20 Most Common Cancers, Percentage Change in European Age-Standardised Three Year Average Incidence Rates, Males, UK, 2000-2002 and 2009-2011

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Figure 2.7: The 20 Most Common Cancers, Percentage Change in European Age-Standardised Three Year Average Incidence Rates, Females, UK, 2000-2002 and 2009-2011

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While thyroid cancer is the fastest-increasing cancer in both males and females in the UK, with the AS incidence rates rising by around two-thirds in the last decade (69% and 65% for males and females respectively), it remains a rare cancer. Increased cancer incidence (and subsequent radiotherapy treatment), as well as incidental detection of early-stage tumours, may explain some of the increase.15

Malignant melanoma is the second-fastest increasing cancer in both males and females (with AS incidence rates rising by 57% and 39%, respectively, in the last decade). Some of the increase may be due to increased surveillance and early detection as well as improved diagnosis, but most is considered to be real and linked to increased exposure to UV rays (from sunlight and sunbeds).7,8

Liver cancer, though rare in the UK is the third-fastest increasing cancer in males and the fifth fastest in females (increases of 45% and 33%, respectively, in the last decade). This increase may reflect rising alcohol consumption and subsequent higher rates of cirrhosis of the liver.9,21,23

Kidney cancer is the fifth-fastest increasing cancer in males and the third-fastest in females (AS incidence rates have increased by 27% and 38%, respectively, in the last decade). Rising obesity levels in the UK may partly explain this increase.10-12

Prostate cancer is the  sixth-fastest increasing cancer in males, with AS incidence rates rising by around a sixth (16%) in the last decade. The use of prostate specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer has contributed to this marked increase.13,14

In the last decade the largest decreases in incidence have been in stomach cancer for both males and females (AS incidence rates decreasing by 32% and 28%, respectively). Much of this can be attributed to a decline in the prevalence of Helicobacter pylori (a major cause of stomach cancer), an increase in fresh food in the diet, and possible changes in coding and diagnostic practices.18,19

There have also been large incidence decreases in the last decade for lung and laryngeal cancers in males (AS rates decreasing by 14% and 13%, respectively), and ovarian and oesophageal cancers in females (10% and 8% decreases, respectively).

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section updated 14/01/14

Variation in the UK

England

Very few cancers have particularly high incidence rates in England in comparisons with the rest of the UK. The incidence of stomach cancer in males is significantly lower in England (11 per 100,000) compared with the other three countries in the UK (the highest incidence being 15 per 100,000 in Wales). Other types with the lowest incidence rates in England include lung cancer in males, bowel cancer in females and cervix in situ. 

Wales

The incidence rates for nearly all cancers in Wales show no significant differences in comparison with the three other UK countries. However, the incidence rate of ovarian cancer is significantly higher in Wales (20 per 100,000) compared with the other three countries in the UK (the lowest incidence being 14 per 100,000 in Northern Ireland). 

Scotland

The high prevalence of smoking in Scotland means that smoking-related cancers have particularly high incidence rates there. Lung cancer incidence is significantly higher in Scotland (76 and 59 per 100,000 in males and females, respectively) in comparison with the rest of the UK (the lowest incidence rates being in England for males, at 56 per 100,000, and in Northern Ireland for females, at 37 per 100,000). The incidence rate of oesophageal cancer in males is also significantly higher in Scotland compared with the other UK countries. 

Prostate cancer has a significantly lower incidence rate in Scotland (85 per 100,000) in comparison with the three other UK countries (the highest incidence being 107 per 100,000 in Wales); this may be associated with differences in the availability and uptake of prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing across the UK.13

Northern Ireland

Very few cancers have significantly higher incidence rates in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of the UK. The incidence rate of malignant melanoma in males in Northern Ireland (13 per 100,000) is significantly lower compared with the other three countries in the UK. Female breast cancer incidence has been lowest in Northern Ireland compared with the three other UK countries for almost two decades (though in 2011 only the difference with Scotland was significant).22

section reviewed 14/01/14
section updated 14/01/14

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References for common cancers incidence

  1. Data were provided by the Office for National Statistics on request, July 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/cancer-statistics-registrations--england--series-mb1-/index.html
  2. Data were provided by ISD Scotland on request, May 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Cancer/Publications/index.asp
  3. Data were provided by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=242&pid=59080
  4. Data were provided by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry on request, June 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerData/OnlineStatistics/
  5. Parkin DM, Boyd L, Walker LC. 16. The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 Suppl 2:S77-81.
  6. United Kingdom and Ireland Association of Cancer Registries. Library of Recommendations on Cancer Coding and Classification Policy and Practice: Bladder Cancer. UKIACR; 2004.
  7. Thomson CS, Woolnough S, Wickenden M, et al. Sunbed use in children aged 11-17 in England: face to face quota sampling surveys in the National Prevalence Study and Six Cities Study. BMJ 2010;340:c877.
  8. Parkin DM, Mesher D, Sasieni P. 13. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 Suppl 2:S66-9.
  9. Fattovich G, Stroffolini T, Zagni I, et al. Hepatocellular carcinoma in cirrhosis: incidence and risk factors. Gastroenterology 2004;127:S35-50.
  10. Parkin DM. 2. Tobacco-attributable cancer burden in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 Suppl 2:S6-S13.
  11. Cogliano VJ, Baan R, Straif K, et al. Preventable exposures associated with human cancers. J Natl Cancer Inst 2011;103:1827-39.
  12. Parkin DM, Boyd L. 8. Cancers attributable to overweight and obesity in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011;105 Suppl 2:S34-7.
  13. Brewster D, Fraser L, Harris V, et al. Rising incidence of prostate cancer in Scotland: increased risk or increased detection? BJU International 2000;85:463-73.
  14. Potosky A, Miller B, Albertsen P, Kramer B. The Role of Increasing Detection in the Rising Incidence of Prostate Cancer. JAMA 1995;273:548-52.
  15. Mellemkjær L, Friis S, Olsen JH, et al. Risk of second cancer among women with breast cancer. IJC 2006;118:2285-92.
  16. Yates DH, Corrin B, Stidolph PN, et al. Malignant mesothelioma in south east England: clinicopathological experience of 272 cases. Thorax 1997; 52(6): 507-12.
  17. Scherpereel A, Astoul P, Baas P, et al. Guidelines of the European Respiratory Society and the European Society of Thoracic Surgeons for the management of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Eur Respir J 2010;35(3):479-95.
  18. Vyse AJ, Gay NJ, Hesketh LM, et al. The burden of Helicobacter pylori infection in England and Wales. Epidemiol Infect 2002;128:411-7.
  19. National Cancer Intelligence Network. Incidence of stomach cancer in England, 1998-2007 - NCIN Data Briefing. London: NCIN; 2010.
  20. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Clinical guideline 104. Diagnosis and management of metastatic malignant disease of unknown primary origin. London: NICE; 2010.
  21. Office for National Statistics. General Lifestyle Survey overview: A report on the 2010 general lifestyle survey. (PDF 131MB) 2013.
  22. Westlake S, Cooper N. Cancer incidence and mortality: trends in the United Kingdom and constituent countries, 1993 to 2004. Health Stat Q 2008:33-46.
  23. Office for National Statistics. Alcohol-related deaths in the United Kingdom, 2011. London: ONS; 2013.