Fact sheet: Cancer in Canada

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Organization: Public Health Agency of Canada

Published: 2018-06-05

Nearly half of all Canadians will develop cancer during their lifetime, and about one quarter of Canadians are expected to die from the disease.Footnote 1 Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada - responsible for 30% of all deaths- followed by cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), chronic respiratory diseases, and accidents.Footnote 2

Although the overall risk of dying from cancer is declining in Canada, the number of new cancer diagnoses and cancer deaths continues to rise.Footnote 1 The steady increase in the number of cancer cases and deaths is primarily due to the aging and growth of the population, a phenomenon that is expected to continue over the coming decades.Footnote 3

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), in collaboration with other governmental and non-governmental organizations, conducts national surveillance of cancer to support the planning and evaluation of cancer-related policies, programs, and services. For this fact sheet, data from the Canadian Cancer Registry, the Canadian Vital Statistics – Death Database, and the Canadian Community Health Survey were used to provide current statistics on the burden of cancer in Canada.

What is cancer?

Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells anywhere in the body.Footnote 4 While there are more than 100 different types of cancer, the top four types (i.e. lung, colorectal, breast, and prostate) make up 50% of all cancer cases diagnosed in Canada.Footnote 1

How many Canadians live with cancer (prevalence)?

In 2015, 7.1% (2.1 million) Canadians aged 12 years and older reported being diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime. The age-adjusted prevalence of cancer increased slightly during the most recent 10 years, from 5.9% to 6.8% (Figure 1), mostly due to improved survival among those diagnosed with the disease. The prevalence of cancer increases dramatically with age (Figure 2). By 70 years of age, more than 20% of Canadians (1 in 5) report having been diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime.

Figure 1: Age-standardized lifetime prevalence of cancer among individuals aged 12 years and older, Canada, 2005–2015

Figure 1

Text Description
Figure 1 Data Table
Year Age-standardized prevalence (%)
2005 5.9%
2007 6.1%
2008 6.7%
2009 5.9%
2010 6.4%
2011 6.7%
2012 6.6%
2013 7.0%
2014 6.4%
2015 6.8%

Data Source: Canadian Community Health Survey 2015 – Statistics Canada.

Note: Prevalence estimates are age-standardized to the 2011 Canadian population.

Figure 2: Age-specific lifetime prevalence of cancer among individuals aged 12 years and older, Canada, 2015

Figure 2

Text Description
Figure 2 Data Table
Age Group Prevalence (%)
Total (12+) 7.1%
12–14 * -
15–19 0.3%
20–24 * -
25–29 0.8%
30–34 1.5%
35–39 2.0%
40–44 4.1%
45–49 5.2%
50–54 5.4%
55–59 9.2%
60–64 12.6%
65–69 15.7%
70–74 21.7%
75–79 21.5%
80–84 29.5%
85+ 24.7%

Data Source: Canadian Community Health Survey, 2015 – Statistics Canada

Note: Asterisks (*) denote estimates supressed due to large sampling variability (i.e. coefficient of variation (CV) > 35%).

How many Canadians are newly diagnosed with cancer each year (incidence)?

In 2014, approximately 137,000Footnote Canadians (excluding Quebec) were diagnosed with cancer. Between 1992 and 2014, the number of new cancers diagnosed increased 59%, from 86,000 to 137,000 (Figure 3). However, during the same period of time, the age-standardized incidence rate (ASIR), a measure of cancer risk that removes the effect of age and population size, decreased from 520 per 100,000 to 488 per 100,000 for both sexes combined (Figure 3). In particular, since 2007, the combined ASIR declined by 0.7% per year. Thus, although the number of new cancers diagnosed each year in Canada continues to increase because of the growing and aging population, the risk of developing the disease is declining.

Figure 3: Number of new cancer diagnoses and age-standardized incidence rate (ASIR) of cancer, by sex, Canada (excluding Quebec), 1992–2014

Figure 3

Text Description
Figure 3 Data Table
 Year Total Male Female
Number  Incidence Rate Number Incidence Rate Number Incidence Rate
1992 86270 519.7 46195 634.6 40075 444.7
1993 89000 525 48220 645.3 40775 443
1994 89125 513.9 47700 622.4 41425 439.2
1995 88790 501.4 46495 595 42300 439.6
1996 90450 499.9 47220 590.5 43230 439.1
1997 94170 509.4 49240 602.5 44925 446.6
1998 96395 510.9 50005 599.2 46390 452
1999 100200 520.8 52580 616.1 47620 455
2000 102050 519.7 53720 615 48330 452.1
2001 105190 523.8 55920 624.2 49270 451.1
2002 106980 518.6 55525 602.1 51460 460.1
2003 107680 509.3 56330 595.2 51345 447.4
2004 111715 514.8 58570 601.4 53150 451.4
2005 115305 518.9 60165 602.4 55140 458.4
2006 119030 522.3 62515 608.6 56510 459
2007 123535 528.8 65020 614.1 58515 465.1
2008 122870 512.5 64395 590.3 58480 454.9
2009 126290 513.6 65510 582 60780 462.7
2010 128175 508.2 66030 570.4 62145 462.8
2011 132520 512.6 68635 575.5 63890 466.4
2012 132120 497.1 67190 545.4 64925 462.8
2013 138990 508.3 71085 559.5 67900 472.2
2014 137045 488.2 69555 530.1 67485 459.4

Data Source: The Canadian Cancer Registry database at Statistics Canada.

Note: Data from Quebec were not available. Rates are age-standardized to the 2011 Canadian population.

How many Canadians die from cancer each year (mortality)?

In 2013, over 55,000Footnote Canadians (excluding Quebec) died from cancer. Between 1992 and 2013, the total number of deaths due to cancer increased 38%, from 40,000 to approximately 55,000 (Figure 4). Meanwhile, the age-standardized mortality rate (ASMR) decreased from 247 per 100,000 to 200 per 100,000 or by an average of 1.1% per year for both sexes combined (Figure 4). In particular, since 2003, the combined ASMR declined by 1.5% per year. The steady decline in the ASMR over time shows that the risk of dying from cancer in Canada is decreasing, mostly due to improvements in detection and treatment.

Figure 4: Number of cancer deaths and age-standardized mortality rate (ASMR) of cancer, by sex, Canada (excluding Quebec), 1992–2013.

Figure 4

Text Description
Figure 4 Data Table
Year Total Male Female
Number Mortality rate Number Mortality rate Number Mortality rate
1992 39,881 247.5 21794 317.6 18087 201.1
1993 40,953 247.6 22067 313.1 18886 204
1994 41,983 248.9 22599 314.2 19384 205.5
1995 42,436 245.8 22902 311.7 19534 201.6
1996 43,256 244.6 22903 304.9 20353 205.1
1997 42,762 236.5 22871 297.7 19891 196
1998 44,163 238.7 23495 298.7 20668 199.2
1999 45,196 239.3 24051 298.7 21145 199.4
2000 45,977 237.9 24286 294.7 21691 200.1
2001 46,533 235.2 24798 294.8 21735 195.6
2002 47,503 233.9 25017 289.2 22486 197.8
2003 48,567 232.8 25439 285.9 23128 198
2004 49,038 228.7 25680 280 23358 194.9
2005 49,357 224.4 25990 276.2 23367 189.8
2006 49,653 219.6 26154 270.7 23499 186.2
2007 50,901 219.2 26776 267.4 24125 186.2
2008 51,478 216 27124 264.2 24354 183.8
2009 51,992 212.4 27428 258.9 24564 180.7
2010 52,454 208.7 27353 250.3 25101 180
2011 53,021 205.3 27812 246.7 25209 176.5
2012 53,991 202.6 28415 243.4 25576 174.1
2013 54,947 199.7 28911 238.6 26036 172.2

Data Source: Canadian Vital Statistics – Death Database at Statistics Canada.

Note: Data from Quebec are excluded for consistency with incidence. Rates are age-standardized to the 2011 Canadian population.

Cancer among males and females

Historically, males have been more likely than females to be diagnosed with cancer. The incidence gap between the sexes has, however, begun to narrow as rates among males have been declining while rates among females have been slowly increasing (Figure 3).

Between 1992 and 2014, the incidence rate of cancer in females increased 0.3% per year, from 445 to 459 per 100,000 (Figure 3). The incidence rate of cancer in males was relatively stable between 1992 and 2007, around 600 per 100,000, but then began to decline by 1.8% per year to 530 per 100,000 in 2014 (Figure 3). The decline in cancer incidence in males in the past 10 years is primarily due to declines in the incidence of prostate and lung cancers.

Similar to cancer incidence, the cancer mortality rate is higher in males than females, but the gap is diminishing (Figure 4). Since 1992, the cancer mortality rate has been declining faster in males than females (1.3% vs 0.8% per year, on average, respectively).

Cancer and aging

Cancer disproportionately affects older Canadians; approximately 88% of new cancer diagnoses (Figure 5) and 95% of cancer deaths (Figure 6) occur among Canadians over 50 years of age.

The likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer increases with each decade of life, from 29 cases per 100,000 in Canadians less than 30 years of age to more than 2,200 cases per 100,000 among Canadians aged 80 to 89 years (Figure 5). After 90 years of age, the rate of cancer starts to decline.

The likelihood of dying from cancer grows continuously with age (Figure 6). In 2013, the cancer mortality rate among Canadians under 30 years of age was approximately 4 per 100,000 and it was over 2,200 per 100,000 in those 90 years of age and older.

Figure 5: Number of new cancer diagnoses and cancer incidence rates, by age group, Canada (excluding Quebec), 2014

Figure 5

Text Description
Figure 5 Data Table
Age Group Number of new diagnoses Incidence 
<30 2,845 29
30–39 4,130 111
40–49 9,760 259
50–59 24,460 602
60–69 38,065 1,267
70–79 34,065 1,995
80–89 20,090 2,227
90+ 3,620 1,789

Data Source: The Canadian Cancer Registry database at Statistics Canada.

Note: Data from Quebec were not available.

Figure 6: Number of cancer deaths and cancer mortality rates, by age group, Canada (excluding Quebec), 2013

Figure 6

Text Description
Figure 6 Data Table
Age Group Number of deaths Mortality rate (per 100,000)
<30 350 4
30–39 455 12
40–49 1,775 46
50–59 6,435 161
60–69 12,180 421
70–79 15,155 920
80–89 14,300 1,611
90+ 4,305 2,257

Data Source: Canadian Vital Statistics – Death Database at Statistics Canada.

Note: Data from Quebec are excluded for consistency with incidence.

Can cancer be prevented?

Cancer is a complex disease with many risk and protective factors influencing its development. Although some factors are not avoidable, such as aging or family history, several can be modified.

Cancer risk can be reduced by:

  • being a non-smoker
  • maintaining a healthy body weight
  • eating a well-balanced diet (e.g., a diet low in red and processed meats, and high in fruits and vegetables)
  • staying active/exercising
  • reducing alcohol consumption
  • getting vaccinated against HPV and Hepatitis B
  • avoiding tanning beds and using SUNSENSE
  • enhancing air quality (e.g., by ensuring adequate ventilation in homes, removing indoor air pollutants, such as radon, and by heating homes with electricity, natural gas, or a heating oil system)
  • learning ways to effectively cope with stress.

This is not an exhaustive list. For more information please visit the Canadian Cancer Society's Prevention and Screening page (www.cancer.ca).

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References

Footnote 1

Canadian Cancer Society's Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2017. Available at: www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/canadian-cancer-statistics-publication (accessed: 2017 September 19).

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Statistics Canada. Table 102-0561 - Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada, annual, CANSIM (database). Available at http://www5.statcan.gc.ca/cansim/ a26?lang=eng&id=1020561 (accessed: 2017 September 19).

Return to footnote 2 referrer

Footnote 3

Canadian Cancer Society's Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015. Toronto, Ontario. Canadian Cancer Society; 2015. Available at: www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/ cancer-101/canadian-cancer-statistics-publication/past-editions- canadian-cancer-statistics/?region=on (accessed: 2017 September 19).

Return to footnote 3 referrer

Footnote 4

Canadian Cancer Society. What is cancer?. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2017. Available at: www.cancer.ca/en/cancer- information/cancer-101/what-is-cancer/?region=on

Return to footnote 4 referrer

Footnote †

Quebec has not submitted data to the Canadian Cancer registry since 2010; therefore, all estimates (1992 – 2014) exclude cases diagnosed in the province of Quebec.

Return to footnote referrer

Footnote ‡

Data from Quebec were not included for consistency with incidence; therefore all estimates (1992–2013) exclude cancer deaths in Quebec.

Return to footnote referrer

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