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Cancer survival by age

Survival statistics for the most common cancers are presented here by age and sex.

Unless otherwise stated, these data are for all adults diagnosed with cancer, at ages 15-99, stages and co-morbidities. The survival statistics presented here are for England in 2005-2009 (followed up to 2010). Survival data for England in 2006-2010 (followed up to 2011) is available but used a different method, is not comparable with the data here and had no historical trends so has not been used here.

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By age at diagnosis

Among adults, relative survival decreases with increasing age at diagnosis for almost every cancer, even when the higher mortality from other causes in older people is allowed for (Table 1.4).1 Survival data is also available for children and teenagers and young adults.

Two exceptions to the general pattern of a decrease in survival with increasing age at diagnosis are breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. For breast cancer the highest five-year relative survival is in women diagnosed in the age range 50-59. It has been suggested that survival for younger women diagnosed with breast cancer are lower because the types of breast cancer diagnosed in pre-menopausal women tend to be more aggressive.2-4

Some of the improvement in breast cancer survival in women over 50 is due to the national screening programme. Screen-detected cancers tend to be diagnosed at an earlier stage when successful treatment is more likely (see breast screening section for more details) but lead time (the period between the detection of a cancer at screening and when it would have presented clinically) will inevitably provide an increase in survival figures which may not be a real benefit. Therefore, caution needs to be exercised when interpreting this increase in the survival figures.

For prostate cancer, five-year relative survival is highest in men diagnosed in the age group 60-69. Prostate cancer is similar to breast cancer in that the disease is thought to be more aggressive in men diagnosed under 50.5,6 Also PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) testing is increasingly being offered to men in their 50s and 60s, bringing forward the date of diagnosis and increasing the length of time that men live with their diagnosis (see prostate screening section for more details). Therefore, as with the figures for breast cancer, caution needs to be exercised when interpreting this increase in the survival figures.

The reasons for the poorer survival in elderly patients require further investigation but include several factors such as less aggressive treatment for the elderly, and a smaller proportion of older patients being entered into clinical trials, which are generally associated with higher survival.7-12

For some cancers, younger patients develop more easily treatable cancers e.g. germ-cell ovarian cancer tends to occur in pre-menopausal women and is very chemo-sensitive, and testicular cancer is easier to treat in younger men.13,14 Also, many studies show that older cancer patients are more likely to be diagnosed with later stage disease which tends to have lower survival.15,16

Table 1.4: Five-Year Relative Survival by Site, Age and Sex for Patients Diagnosed in England During 2005-2009.

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Download this table XLS (25KB)

section reviewed 13/06/13
section updated 13/06/13

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References for cancer survival by age

  1. For data for 2005-2009: Office for National Statistics (ONS). Cancer survival in England: Patients diagnosed 2005-2009 and followed up to 2010. London: ONS; 2011.
  2. Fisher CJ, Egan MK, Smith P, et al. Histopathology of breast cancer in relation to age. Br J Cancer 1997;75(4):593-6.
  3. Mathew A, Rajan B, Pandey M. Do younger women with non-metastatic and non-inflammatory breast carcinoma have poor prognosis? World J Surg Oncol 2004;2(1):2.
  4. Chia KS, Du WB, Sankaranarayanan R, et al. Do younger female breast cancer patients have a poorer prognosis? Results from a population-based survival analysis. Int J Cancer 2004;108(5):761-765.
  5. Merrill RM, Bird JS. Effect of young age on prostate cancer survival: a population-based assessment (United States). Cancer Causes Control 2002;13(5):435-43.
  6. Grönberg H, Damber JE, Jonsson H, et al. Patient age as a prognostic factor in prostate cancer. J Urol 1994;152(3):892-5.
  7. Bultitude MF, Fentiman IS. 16. Breast cancer in older women. Int J Clin Pract 2002;56(8):588-90.
  8. Fentiman IS. Are the elderly receiving appropriate treatment for cancer? Ann Oncol 1996;7(7):657-8.
  9. Fentiman IS, Tirelli U, Monfardini S, et al. Cancer in the elderly: why so badly treated? Lancet 1990;335(8696):1020-2.
  10. Wyld L, Reed MW. The need for targeted research into breast cancer in the elderly. Br J Surg 2003;90(4):388-99.
  11. Bene J, Liston R. Clinical trials should be designed to include elderly people. BMJ 1998;316(7148):1905.
  12. Bugeja G, Kumar A, Banerjee AK. Exclusion of elderly people from clinical research: a descriptive study of published reports. BMJ 1997;315(7115):1059.
  13. dos Santos Silva I, Swerdlow AJ. Ovarian germ cell malignancies in England: epidemiological parallels with testicular cancer. Br J Cancer 1991;63(5):814-8.
  14. Spermon JR, Witjes JA, Kiemeney LA. Difference in stage and morphology-adjusted survival between young and elderly patients with a testicular germ cell tumor. Urology 2002;60(5):889-93.
  15. Kothari A, Fentiman IS. 22. Diagnostic delays in breast cancer and impact on survival. Int J Clin Pract 2003;57(3):200-3.
  16. Maringe C, Walters S, Butler J, et al. Stage at diagnosis and ovarian cancer survival: Evidence from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership. Gynecol Oncol 2012;127(1):75-82.
Updated: 13 June 2013