Lifetime risk of cancer

Lifetime risk in the UK has been found to have increased over time, due to longer life expectancy[1], meaning that more people are living into old age, where cancer is more common.

Lifetime Risk Increase

Infographic showing the increase in lifetime risk of cancer

In 1975 the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer in the UK was one in four people by the 1990s it has risen to one in three, and by 2010 it was four in ten.[2]

The lifetime risk for men and women has been diverging since the 1970s, with risk being consistently higher in men than women.[2]

The Lifetime Risk of Being Diagnosed with All Cancers Excluding Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (C00-C97 Excl. C44), UK, 1975-2030

Chart showing the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer

This rise over time and the difference between the sexes is due to a combination of factors, mainly 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 and detection.

Lifetime risk estimates depend on the approach used for the calculations as well as life expectancy data and incidence trends and projections. Projections are are likely to be underestimates[3-6] and often do not take into account potential changes in lifestyle, treatments or preventive programmes that could alter future rates.

References

  1. The World Data Bank. Life expectancy at birth, total (years). Accessed January 2015.
  2. Lifetime risk projections calculated by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK. Based on using data provided by Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of Londonon request September 2012.
  3. Mistry M, Parkin D, Ahmad A, et al. Cancer incidence in the UK: Projections to the year 2030. Br J Cancer 2011;105:1795-1803.
  4. Sasieni P, et al. Cancer mortality projections in the UK to 2030 (unpublished). Analyses undertaken and data supplied upon request; September 2012.
  5. Oliver SE, Roman E, Crouch S, et al. Comment on 'cancer incidence in the United Kingdom: projections to the year 2030'. Br J Cancer 2013;108(5):1213-4. Epub 2013 Feb 21.
  6. Office for National Statistics. Projection of number of deaths to 2030, by age and sex. (Reference 000316). Accessed August 2012.
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Estimates of the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer varies by cancer type, sex and age.

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.[1]

Cancer is primarily a disease of older people, as the difference between the estimates for the percentage of people 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.[1]

The 15 Most Common Male and Female Cancers, Risk of Being Diagnosed with Cancer by Age 65 and Over a Lifetime, UK, 2010

Cancer Site Male Female
  Up to Age 64 (%) Lifetime Risk (%) Lifetime Risk (1 in X) Up to Age 64 (%) Lifetime Risk (%) Lifetime Risk (1 in X)
Bladder (C67) 0.34 2.56 40 0.13 0.94 107
Brain and Central Nervous System, Invasive (C70-C72) 0.38 0.81 124 0.27 0.59 170
Breast (C50) 0.03 0.12 868 6.22 12.90 8
Bowel (C18-C20) 1.58 7.18 14 1.10 5.43 19
Cervix (C53)       0.54 0.72 139
Kidney (C64-C66,C68) 0.57 1.81 56 0.32 1.11 90
Leukaemia (C91-C95) 0.46 1.52 66 0.31 1.04 96
Liver (C22) 0.22 0.86 117 0.09 0.47 214
Lung (C33-C34) 1.36 7.63 14 1.16 5.77 18
Malignant Melanoma (C43) 0.73 1.82 55 0.91 1.80 56
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
Oesophagus (C15) 0.46 1.80 56 0.14 0.91 110
Oral (C00-C06,C09-C10, C12-C14) 0.62 1.20 84 0.26 0.64 157
Ovary (C56-C57)       0.78 2.00 51
Pancreas (C25) 0.29 1.38 73 0.21 1.36 74
Prostate (C61) 2.54 13.24 8      
Stomach (C16) 0.26 1.57 64 0.13 0.84 120
Uterus (C54-C55)       0.89 2.35 43

Brain and Central Nervous System includes only malignant brain, other central nervous system (CNS) and intracranial tumours. Breast cancer (males) and liver cancer (females) are based on 2008-2010 data due to having fewer than 2,000 cases per year. Myeloma, pancreatic cancer and prostate cancers are calculated using the Current Probability method. All other sites calculated using the AMP method.

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Four cancers – breast, lung, bowel (including anus) and prostate – currently account more than half 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).[1]

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.[1] 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.[1] 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.

The Lifetime Risk of Being Diagnosed with Prostate, Lung and Bowel Cancers, UK, Male, 1975-2030

Chart showing trends of lifetime risk for male cancers

Bowel cancer includes anus (C18-C21). Prostate cancer calculated using the Current Probability method. All other sites calculated using the AMP method.

The Lifetime Risk of Being Diagnosed with Breast, Lung and Bowel Cancers, UK, Female, 1975-2030

Chart showing trends of lifetime risk for female cancers

Bowel cancer includes anus (C18-C21). All sites calculated using the AMP method.

References

  1. Lifetime risk projections calculated by the Statistical Information Team at Cancer Research UK. Based on using data provided by Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, Queen Mary University of Londonon request September 2012.
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