Lifetime risk of cancer
Lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer is presented here. There are also data by cancer type, age, sex, risk over time and a summary of the methods used to achieve these conclusions.
The cancer risk statistics were calculated from UK incidence 2010 data.
The lifetime risk of cancer is an estimation of the risk that a newborn child has of being diagnosed with cancer at some point during its life. It is based on current incidence and mortality rates and therefore is calculated under the assumption that the current rates (at all ages) will remain constant during the life of the newborn child.
More than one in three people in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime.1 An individual's risk of being diagnosed with cancer depends on many factors, including age, lifestyle and genetic factors. It is estimated that more than four in 10 cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes, such as not smoking, cutting back on alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding excessive sun exposure.12
section reviewed 19/12/12
section updated 27/11/12
Lifetime risk is a useful summary of risk in the population but it should be remembered that a large range of genetic and lifestyle factors affect the risk of cancer and the risk for every individual is different.
Two methods have been used to calculate the lifetime risk estimates presented in this section. These are the "Current Probability" method and the “Adjusted for Multiple Primaries (AMP)” method.1,10,11
You can download an Excel template which can be used to calculate the lifetime risk for these two methods.
section reviewed 15/05/13
section updated 15/05/13
A person's risk of being diagnosed with cancer is dependent on age. Overall, it is estimated that more than one in three people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. This was calculated using the AMP method using 2010 data for the UK.1-8 This compares to an estimated risk of 1 in 35 for men and 1 in 20 for women being diagnosed with cancer up to the age of 50 years. For further information on risk see the section on understanding risk.
Estimates of the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with some of the most common cancers are shown in Table 4.1. The majority of these estimates are based on the AMP method. Where there is a low chance of recurrence (such as in prostate cancer) the Current Probability method has been used. These estimates assume no change in the current incidence rates and should be used as an approximate guide only.
For females the cancer type with the highest lifetime risk is breast cancer followed by lung and bowel cancer. For males the cancer type with the highest lifetime risk is prostate cancer, again followed by lung cancer and bowel cancer. Table 4.1 includes invasive brain and central nervous system (CNS) tumours. Non-invasive brain and CNS tumours are often reported alongside invasive brain and CNS tumours; the lifetime risk for invasive and non-invasive brain and CNS tumours combined is 1.3% for both males and females.
Table 4.1: 15 Most Common Male and Female Cancers, Risk of Being Diagnosed with Cancer by Age 65 and Over a Lifetime, UK, 2010
|Up to Age 64 (%)||Lifetime Risk (%)||Lifetime Risk (1 in X)||Up to Age 64 (%)||Lifetime Risk (%)||Lifetime Risk (1 in X)|
|Brain and Central Nervous System, Invasive (C70-C72)||0.38||0.81||124||0.27||0.59||170|
|Malignant Melanoma (C43)||0.73||1.82||55||0.91||1.80||56|
|Multiple Myeloma (C90)**||0.18||0.84||119||0.13||0.65||154|
|Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (C82-C85)||0.67||1.98||51||0.51||1.66||61|
|Oral (C00-C06,C09-C10, C12-C14)||0.62||1.20||84||0.26||0.64||157|
Download this table XLS (16.5KB)
* Cancer sites with fewer than 2,000 cases per year are based on 2008-2010 data. These are liver cancer in females and breast cancer in males.
** These cancer sites have been calculated using the Current Probability method. All other sites have been calculated using the AMP method.
Cancer is primarily a disease of older people, as the difference between the estimates for the percentage of a cohort who are diagnosed with cancer by age 65 and over a lifetime show. For instance, for men there is a less than 2% risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer by age 65 but this increases to almost 8% over a lifetime.
Life expectancy in the UK is increasing, with more elderly people alive today than ever before. In 2008-2010, men and women aged 65 could expect to live to the ages of 83 and 85 respectively, increases of around a year compared with people aged 65 in 2004-2006.9
section reviewed 19/12/12
section updated 19/12/12
In 1975 the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer was around 25% or one in four people. Since then, there has been a steady rise in cancer incidence rates from the 1970s until the late 1990s when rates began to stabilise. Lifetime risk increased alongside this rise in incidence rates, and has continued to rise due to increasing life expectancy whilst in contrast the incidence rates have been stable. By the early 1990s the number of people being diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime had risen from one in four to one in three. It has been increasing slowly ever since and in 2010 was four in ten for persons (Figure 4.1).
In 1975 the lifetime risk for men was 25%; this has risen to a projected 45% in 2012 and is expected to reach 50% (or one in two) in 2027. In 1975 the lifetime risk for women was only slightly lower than for men but since then lifetime risk for men has increased at a greater rate than in women. The gap between women and men has therefore increased from more than 1% in 1975 to almost 4% in 2010 and the gap is projected to increase to more than 6% by 2030. The lifetime risk for women is projected to be 44% in 2030 compared with more than 50% for men.
Figure 4.1: The Lifetime Risk of Being Diagnosed with Cancer*, UK, 1975-2030
Download this chart XLS (97KB)
*all cancers, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC)
This rise since the 1970s is due to a combination of factors. Most important, are the decrease in all-cause mortality (i.e. increasing life expectancy); and the increase in cancer incidence. The increase in cancer incidence is due to many factors including changes in lifestyle, screening detecting more breast cancers and Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing detecting more prostate cancers.
The lifetime risk projections were estimated using cancer incidence and mortality projections provided by the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of London.13,14 It has since been shown that the 2011 incidence projections are likely to have underestimated cancer incidence, for some sites substantially.15 This underestimation is likely to mean that the lifetime risk is also therefore underestimated. Population and all cause mortality projections were provided by the Office for National Statistics.16,17 The cancer incidence and mortality projections do not take into account potential changes in lifestyle, treatments or preventive programmes that could alter future rates. They are based entirely on past rates and so the projected changes over time for each cancer type are based on current trends.
For women, increases in cancers of the bowel, lung and uterus and malignant melanoma will lead to an increase in the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with all cancers combined. For men, increases in cancers of the prostate, bowel, lung, and malignant melanoma will lead to an increase in the lifetime risk of all cancers combined.
section reviewed 23/04/13
section updated 23/04/13
Four cancers - breast, lung, bowel (including anus) and prostate - currently account for 54% of cancer incidence. In 1975, the lifetime risk of breast cancer was 7%, lung cancer was 2%, and bowel cancer (including anus) was 4%; and the lifetime risk for males of prostate cancer was 3%, lung cancer was 9%, and bowel cancer including anus was 3%. Since then, there has been a rise in incidence rates for all four cancers and the lifetime risk in 2010 for the four major cancer sites was almost 13% (female breast), 6% (female lung), 8% (male lung), 6% (female bowel including anus), 7% (male bowel including anus) and 13% (prostate) (Figures 4.2 & 4.3).
In women, breast and lung cancers have had the biggest impact on the increase in lifetime risk since the mid-1970s, with the number of women diagnosed with one of these two cancers increasing from 35% of cases in 1975 to 1977 to 42% in 2008 to 2010. The increase in breast cancer is related to lifestyle changes, such as women having fewer children later, and breast screening detecting more breast cancers. The increase in lung cancer rates reflects smoking patterns in previous decades.
In men, the biggest impact on the increase in lifetime risk has been from prostate and bowel cancer (including anus), with the number of men diagnosed with one of these two cancers increasing from 22% of cases in 1975 to 1977 to 39% in 2008 to 2010. A large proportion of the increase in prostate cancer has been caused by Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) testing detecting more prostate cancers. The increase in bowel cancer rates is thought to be related to an increase in red meat consumption and obesity.
Figure 4.2: The Lifetime Risk of Being Diagnosed with Prostate, Lung and Bowel Cancer*, UK, Male, 1975-2030
Download this chart XLS (96KB)
Note prostate cancer has been calculated using the Current Probability method. Other sites have been calculated using the AMP method.
*Bowel cancer includes anus (C18-C21).
Figure 4.3: The Lifetime Risk of Being Diagnosed with Breast, Lung and Bowel Cancer*, UK, Female, 1975-2030
Download this chart XLS (94KB)
*Bowel cancer includes anus (C18-C21).
section reviewed 19/12/12
section updated 19/12/12
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- Sasieni PD, Shelton J, Ormiston-Smith N, et al. What is the lifetime risk of developing cancer?: The effect of adjusting for multiple primaries. Br J Cancer, 2011. 105(3): p. 460-5.
- Data were provided by the Office for National Statistics on request, June 2012. Similar data can be found here: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/cancer-statistics-registrations--england--series-mb1-/index.html.
- Data were provided by ISD Scotland on request, April 2012. Similar data can be found here: http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Cancer/Publications/index.asp.
- Data were provided by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit on request, April 2012. Similar data can be found here: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/page.cfm?orgid=242&pid=59080.
- Data were provided by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry on request, October 2012. Similar data can be found here: http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/nicr/CancerData/OnlineStatistics.
- Office for National Statistics. Mortality Statistics: Deaths registered in 2010, England and Wales. National Statistics: London 2011.
- General Register Office for Scotland. Deaths Time Series Data, Deaths in Scotland in 2010. Edinburgh 2011.
- Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency Registrar General Annual Report - 2010. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Belfast 2011.
- National Statistics Online. Life expectancy at birth and at age 65 by local areas in the United Kingdom, 2004–06 to 2008–10. (PDF 2145KB) October 2010.
- Goldberg ID, Levin ML, Gerhardt PR, et al. The probability of developing cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 17: 155-173 1956.
- Esteve J, Benhamou E and Raymond L. Descriptive epidemiology. (IARC Scientific Publications No.128), Lyon, International Agency for Research on Cancer, pp 67-68 1994.
- Boyle P, Autier P, Bartelink H, et al. European Code Against Cancer and scientific justification: third version (2003). Ann Oncol 2003;14:973-1005.
- Mistry M, Parkin D, Ahmad A, et al. Cancer incidence in the UK: Projections to the year 2030. British Journal of Cancer 2011;105:1795–1803.
- Sasieni P. et al. Cancer mortality projections in the UK to 2030 (unpublished). Analyses undertaken and data supplied upon request; September 2012.
- Oliver SE, Roman E, Crouch S, Bolton E, Ferguson B. Br J Cancer. 2013 Mar 19; 108(5):1213-4. Epub 2013 Feb 21. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23429209
- Office for National Statistics. Projection of number of deaths to 2030, by age and sex. (Reference 000316). Accessed August 2012.
- Office for National Statistics. 2008 Population projections.