Cancer prevalence

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 of people living with cancer rising?

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

We have created cancer prevalence estimates split by types of cancer, nation, sex and year from 2020-2040.

Access the cancer prevalence estimates

How do we calculate cancer prevalence?

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 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.

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

Building the bigger picture

The story of cancer is changing. The UK population is ageing. As the risk of developing cancer increases with age, cancer incidence will increase. Research suggests that 1 in 2 people born in the UK after 1960 will receive a cancer diagnosis. Improvements in treatment and diagnosis are now allowing people to live longer after their diagnosis.

Cancer is increasingly about living with cancer, and many people require support several years after their initial diagnosis and treatment.

Our understanding is the result of years of research and analysis, working with data from the UK’s Cancer Registries.

Key milestones in the cancer story

The first pivotal study

It’s hard to imagine, but before 2008, nobody knew how many people in the UK were living with cancer.

Macmillan and NHS England launched the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative. We commissioned a pivotal study, Cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom: estimates for 2008 by Maddams et al. The study found that 2 million people in the UK were living with cancer at the end of 2008.

We commissioned a second study in 2012, Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010–2040. This study found the number of people living with cancer was projected to grow by around 3% a year. We believe the growth rate is still a good predictor, so we still use this study as the basis for our projections today.

'One size does not fit all'

After these key studies, more people started to acknowledge that one size does not fit all when it comes to the needs of people living with cancer.

We used routinely collected data from the Office for National Statistics, the UK Cancer Registries, Cancer Research UK and academic publications on incidence, prevalence, survival and cancer mortality, to take a closer look at the phases of a cancer journey and how they might differ for different groups of people.

A paper, Using routinely collected data to stratify prostate cancer patients into phases of care in the United Kingdom: implications for resource allocation and the cancer survivorship programme (British Journal of Cancer), reveals how the types and intensity of people’s needs typically vary at different points. This can include diagnosis, treatment, living with the ongoing consequences of cancer, recovery and end of life.

You can find out more in our Stratifying prostate cancer patients report summary.

The three cancer groups

In 2017, we collated data on cancer survival, incidence, prevalence, mortality and stage at diagnosis from statistical publications. We then analysed it to three group types of cancer with similar life trajectories. This framework provides a high-level view of potential care requirements to support service planning. 

You can find out more in this paper:
Categorising cancers to enable tailored care planning through a secondary analysis of cancer registration data in the UK (BMJ Open)

And conference poster, is a framework that can be used alongside what we know about the rate of new diagnoses, to help predict the scale of need for services in the future.

You can find out more in our Describing the three cancer groups report summary.

Treatable but not curable cancer groups

In 2021 we published, treatable but not curable cancer in England: a retrospective cohort study using cancer registry data and linked data sets and explored the prevalence of people living with cancer that can very rarely be cured, but can be treated to help manage symptoms or slow the progression of the cancer and extend people’s lives.

We have more information on this work and the support Macmillan can provide: Treatable but not curable cancer 

Detailed observed cancer prevalence data

This is available across the UK.

  • Northern Ireland
    Official Statistics. Northern Ireland Cancer Registry (NICR), Queen’s University Belfast.
  • Scotland
    Cancer incidence and prevalence in Scotland. Public Health Scotland.
  • Wales
    Cancer incidence (number of new cases) and prevalence (people living after a diagnosis of cancer) for Cluster Networks in Wales produced as part of the Macmillan and Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU) partnership.
  • England
    Cancer Prevalence. Produced in partnership between the National Disease Registration Service, Health Data Insight CIC and Macmillan.