Calculating cancer prevalence

We estimate there are almost 3 million people living with cancer in the UK. We predict this number will rise to nearly 3.5 million by 2025, and 4 million by 2030.

Why is the number rising?

The UK population is growing and ageing. As the risk of cancer increases with age, more people will be affected by cancer in their lifetime. Improvements in treatment and diagnosis also mean more people are now living longer after their diagnosis.

How do we know?

By ‘the number of people living with cancer’, we mean complete prevalence – that’s everyone alive in the UK today who has ever been diagnosed with cancer. While there is no single dataset to provide this figure for the current year, we can estimate.

We used the latest time-limited prevalence figures from the UK cancer registries. This gives us the number of people diagnosed with cancer, within a given timeframe, who are still alive at the index date. We combined this with what we know about complete prevalence from the Macmillan-NCRAS Cancer Prevalence Project, and UK growth rates from the Maddams et al. (2012) study, to estimate complete prevalence figures for 2020 and beyond[1].

You can read our summary of the different sources of cancer prevalence data.

Find out more about cancer prevalence

Local Cancer Intelligence

Observed cancer prevalence

We have listed the most recent sources of observed cancer prevalence in the UK.

Working in partnership

We partnered with the Transforming Cancer Services Team (TCST) and the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) to release 21-year observed cancer prevalence in 2015 for England. This is the number of people alive in the UK in 2015, who were diagnosed with cancer in the previous 21 years, presented by:

  • Region
  • Cancer Alliance
  • Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP)
  • Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG)
  • Local Authority.

Macmillan-NCRAS Cancer Prevalence Project

Working in partnership with Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS), we developed influential research on cancer prevalence. We use the following findings to inform our analyses today:

  • Complete cancer prevalence in 2013
    An estimate of the number of people in the UK who have ever been diagnosed with cancer and were alive at the end of 2013. The analysis includes all cancers combined, the top four cancers specifically (female breast, prostate, colorectal and lung) and all others, for all UK nations and the UK totals. It is presented by sex, age at diagnosis, and year of diagnosis. A paper describing the work is in development.
  • 20-year cancer prevalence in 2010
    This shows the observed number of people alive in the UK in 2010, who were diagnosed with cancer in the previous 20 years. Initial results show 21 common cancers and all cancers combined, and later, 47 detailed cancer sites.

About the outputs

Many outputs from the Cancer Prevalence Project were created as part of the Macmillan-NCRAS Work Plan.

UK-wide data was sourced and presented in collaboration with:

  • Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU) Health Intelligence Division Public Health Wales
  • ISD Scotland
  • Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR).

Find out more


About our analysis


  • [1]
    Analysis based on observed cancer prevalence in 2017 (2015 for Wales), published by the cancer registries for each nation in the UK. The relationship to complete cancer prevalence is derived from 2013 complete prevalence (Macmillan-NCRAS Cancer Prevalence Project). This is projected forwards using the UK growth rates in Maddams et al. (2012), resulting in an estimated 3 million in 2020, 3.5 million in 2025 and 4 million people in 2030 living with cancer in the UK. This includes all people who have ever had a cancer diagnosis; some people in this group may no longer consider themselves to be living with cancer.