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Cancer mortality for common cancers

Mortality statistics for the most common cancers (including non-melanoma skin cancer) are presented here. There are also data by sex, trends over time, and on variation in the UK.

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

Twenty most common causes of cancer death

The 20 most common causes of death from cancer in the UK are shown in Figure 2.1.1-3 Just four cancers - lung, bowel, breast and prostate - together account for almost half (46%) of all cancer deaths. 

Lung is by far the most common cause of cancer death in the UK. More than one in five (22%) cancer deaths in males and females combined are from lung cancer. Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death (10%) and, despite being extremely rare in men, breast cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths overall (7%) (Figure 2.1).1-3

Cigarette smoking has been identified as the single most important cause of preventable death in the UK, killing an estimated 6.5 million people over 50 years.4 Overall, more than a quarter of all deaths from cancer, including more than four in five lung cancer deaths, are caused by tobacco smoking.4

Figure 2.1: The 20 Most Common Causes of Cancer Deaths, UK, 2012

mort_20common_mf.swf

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7% of all female cancer deaths and 6% of all male cancer deaths were registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

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

section reviewed 15/09/14
section updated 15/09/14

Ten most common causes of cancer death in males

Lung cancer is by far the most common cause of cancer deaths in males accounting for almost one in four (23%) of all male cancer deaths (Figures 2.2 and 2.3).1-3 The next most common causes of cancer death in men are prostate (13%) and bowel (10%) cancers. These three cancers - lung, prostate and bowel - together account for almost half (46%) of all male cancer deaths. Bladder, stomach and liver cancers are among the top ten most common causes of cancer deaths in males, but not in females. 

Figure 2.2: The 10 Most Common Causes of Cancer Death in Males, UK, 2012

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6% of all male cancer deaths were registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Figure 2.3: Most Common Causes of Cancer Death in Males, Percentages of All Cancer Deaths (C00-C97), UK, 2012

male-mortality

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section reviewed 15/09/14
section updated 15/09/14

Ten most common causes of cancer death in females

Lung cancer is also the most common cause of cancer deaths in females, accounting for just over a fifth (21%) of all female cancer deaths (Figures 2.4 and 2.5).1-3 Breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths in women, accounting for 15% of all female cancer deaths. The third most common cause of cancer deaths in women is bowel cancer, responsible for 10% of all female cancer deaths. Deaths from lung, breast and bowel cancers together account for nearly half (46%) of all female cancer deaths. Two of the top ten causes of female cancer deaths are sex-specific types (uterus and ovary), compared with just one type (prostate) in males. 

Figure 2.4: The 10 Most Common Causes of Cancer Death in Females, UK, 2012

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7% of all female cancer deaths were registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

Figure 2.5: Most Common Causes of Cancer Death in Females, Percentages of All Cancer Deaths (C00-C97), UK, 2012

female-mortality

8% of all female cancer deaths were registered as cancer of unknown primary (CUP).

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section reviewed 15/09/14
section updated 15/09/14

Trends over time

The percentage changes in AS mortality rates for the top twenty cancers in males and females between 2001-2003 and 2010-2012 in the UK show varying trends by cancer type (Figures 2.6 and 2.7, respectively).1-3 Mortality rates have decreased for twelve of the twenty cancer types in males and eleven in females. Apart from female lung cancer, all four of the most common causes of cancer deaths in the UK – male lung, bowel, female breast and prostate cancers – have seen decreases in mortality in the last decade.

The largest falls in mortality have occurred for stomach cancer (AS mortality rates decreasing by 35% and 30% in males and females, respectively, in the last decade),1-3 reflecting similar decreases in incidence. Much of the decrease in incidence and mortality 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.5,6 Other cancers showing large decreases in mortality in the last decade include cervical cancer (AS mortality rate decreasing by 21% in the last decade, with much of this decrease being attributed to screening), laryngeal cancer in males (25% decrease), and ovarian cancer (20% decrease). Even though prostate cancer has shown one of the biggest increases in incidence in the last decade (with AS incidence rates rising by 16% between 2000-2002 and 2009-2011), the AS mortality rate has fallen by  more than a tenth (13%) over the last ten years.1-3  The impacts of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing makes it difficult to untangle the reasons for the decrease in mortality. PSA testing leads to the over-diagnosis of some latent, non-lethal tumours, and accordingly some deaths in the early years of PSA testing around the early 1990s were erroneously attributed to prostate cancer, so mortality rates were artefactually increased. To an extent, the subsequent decrease in mortality rates may just represent a return to the background trend that would have been observed if PSA testing had not been used. It may also represent PSA testing affording earlier diagnosis and therefore more successful treatment, leading to a genuine decrease in mortality rates.7-12

Some cancers have seen increases in mortality over the past decade, which often reflect increases in incidence where there has been little or no improvement in survival. Although mortality from liver cancer is rare in the UK (AS mortality rates are 6 and 3 per 100,000 males and females, respectively), it has shown the biggest rise in mortality in the last decade (with AS mortality rates increasing by 44% and 50% in males and females, respectively).1-3

In females, the second biggest increase is from uterine cancer; this cancer also has a small mortality burden (4 per 100,000 females), and the AS mortality rate has increased by 15% in the last decade. Despite malignant melanoma being the second-fastest increasing cancer in both males and females in the last decade (with AS incidence rates rising by 57% and 39%, respectively, between 2000-2002 and 2009-2011), the increases in mortality are much less pronounced (with AS mortality rates rising by 20% and 2% in males and females, respectively, between 2001-2003 and 2010-2012).1-3

The third biggest increase in mortality in females and the fourth biggest in males is from cancer of other digestive organs, with the AS mortality rates rising by 11% and 13%, respectively, in the last decade. Cancer of other digestive organs include the spleen, unspecified parts of the intestinal tract, and overlapping and ill-defined sites within the digestive system. Since death certificates are often less specific than cancer registrations, many more deaths than cases are recorded for this site; mortality from this cancer is still very rare, however (4 and 3 per 100,000 males and females, respectively).

Figure 2.6: The 20 Most Common Causes of Cancer Death, Percentage Change in European Age-Standardised Three-Year Average Mortality Rates, Males, UK, 2001-2003 and 2010-2012

mort_asr_20pc_male.png

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Brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours include malignant, benign and uncertain or unknown behaviour tumours.

Figure 2.7: The 20 The 20 Most Common Causes of Cancer Death, Percentage Change in European Age-Standardised Three-Year Average Mortality Rates, Females, UK, 2001-2003 and 2010-2012

mort_asr_20pc_female.png

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Brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours include malignant, benign and uncertain or unknown behaviour tumours.

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

section reviewed 15/09/14
section updated 15/09/14

Variation in the UK

For most cancer types, there is very little variation in mortality rates between the countries of the UK.1-3 One exception to this is lung cancer, for which AS mortality rates are significantly higher in Scotland compared with England, Wales and Northern Ireland (in males ranging from 44 per 100,000 in England to 59 per 100,000 in Scotland, and in females from 30 per 100,000 in England to 47 per 100,000 in Scotland). The high mortality rates in Scotland reflect the country's long history of high smoking prevalence 14 with 22% of adults estimated to smoke in 2012 compared with 20% in England.15

section reviewed 15/09/14
section updated 15/09/14

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References for common cancers mortality

  1. Data were provided by the Office for National Statistics on request, January 2014. Similar data can be found here: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/all-releases.html?definition=tcm%3A77-27475.
  2. Data were provided by ISD Scotland on request, March 2014. Similar data can be found here: http://gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/theme/vital-events/general/ref-tables/index.html.
  3. Data were provided by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry on request, December 2013. Similar data can be found here: http://www.nisra.gov.uk/demography/default.asp22.htm.
  4. Peto R, Lopez AD, Boreham J, et al. Mortality from smoking in developed countries 1950-2005 (or later). March 2012.
  5. Vyse AJ, Gay NJ, Hesketh LM, et al. The burden of Helicobacter pylori infection in England and Wales. Epidemiol Infect 2002;128:411-7.
  6. National Cancer Intelligence Network. Incidence of stomach cancer in England, 1998-2007 - NCIN Data Briefing. London: NCIN; 2010.
  7. Hankey BF, Feuer EJ, Clegg LX, et al. Cancer Surveillance Series: Interpreting Trends in Prostate Cancer-Part I: Evidence of the Effects of Screening in recent Prostate Cancer Incidence, Mortality and Survival Rates. JNCI 1999;91(12):1017-24.
  8. Feuer EJ, Merrill RM, Hankey BF. Cancer surveillance Series: Interpreting Trends in Prostate Cancer- Part II: Cause of Death Misclassification and the Recent Rise and Fall in Prostate Cancer Mortality. JNCI 1999;91(12):1025-32.
  9. Etzioni R, Legler JM, Feuer EJ, et al. Cancer surveillance series: interpreting trends in prostate cancer--part III: Quantifying the link between population prostate-specific antigen testing and recent declines in prostate cancer mortality. JNCI 1999;91(12):1033-39.
  10. Hussain S, Gunnell D, Donovan J, et al. Secular trends in prostate cancer mortality, incidence and treatment: England and Wales, 1975-2004. BJU Int 2008;101(5):547-55.
  11. Andriole GL, Crawford ED, Grubb RL, et al. Mortality Results from a Randomized Prostate-Cancer Screening Trial. N Engl J Med 2009;360(13):1310- 19.
  12. Schroder FH, Hugosson J, Roobol MJ, et al. Screening and Prostate- Cancer Mortality in a Randomized European Study. N Engl J Med 2009;360(13):1320-28.
  13. National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE). Clinical Guidance 104. Diagnosis and management of metastatic malignant disease of unknown primary origin. London 2010.
  14. Scottish Executive Health Department. Cancer Scenarios: An aid to planning cancer services in Scotland in the next decade. Edinburgh: The Scottish Executive, 2001.
  15. Office for National Statistics. Key Findings from the Integrated Household Survey: January 2012 to December 2012. Office for National Statistics, 2013