The 5 Cancer Statistics You Should Know

Most often, when we hear something about cancer we hear about the statistics; our risk of getting cancer or whether treatment works. These statistics can be confusing or misleading if you do not understand how they are used. On top of that, cancer statistics can feel overwhelming when they are consistently changing as information and research continues to evolve.

The one basic rule to remember when it comes to looking at statistics of any kind, especially cancer statistics, is that they are an estimate based on information from large groups of people, at least 100,000 people to be exact. Statistics do not take into account a person’s individual risk factors, nor do they guarantee that it will happen to any person.

In an effort to help you better understand cancer statistics and how they apply to you and your loved ones, we have provided a brief overview of some of the most common statistics.

Lifetime risk: The lifetime risk is one person's chance of getting or dying of cancer over a lifetime. That risk changes based on the person's age, as we get older, our risk increases.

  • An example of this: Roughly 4.5 percent of both men and women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer at some point during their lifetime.

Relative risk: The relative risk compares the risk of people getting a cancer with certain risk factors (e.g., family history or certain behaviors like smoking) with a similar group of people without those risk factors.

  • An example of this: It is estimated that men who smoke are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer than men who do not smoke; the risk of lung cancer is even higher for women who smoke at 25.7.

Incidence rates: The incidence rate is the number of people who get a particular cancer for every 100,000 people. This allows for comparisons across different groups of people (by state, age, or some other factor). This is also different from the actual number of people getting cancer; the number of people diagnosed could be higher or lower.

  • An example of this: It is estimated that the number of new breast cancer cases in women is 125 per 100,000 women per year, which is approximately 1 in every 8 women or 12%.

Relative survival rate: The relative survival rate is the percentage of people surviving with cancer after adjusting for other normal events that may affect life expectancy (e.g., accidents, diagnosis of other conditions or diseases, etc.) The people included in this statistic reflect how many people with cancer are alive after a certain time (usually 5 years). 

  • An example of this: The relative survival rate (5 years) for all types of ovarian cancer is 45 percent for women.

Mortality rates: The mortality rate (or death rate) is the number of people who die of a particular cancer for every 100,000 people. Similar to incidence rates, this rate could differ from the actual number of people dying from cancer as the mortality rate is only an estimate. 

  • An example of this: For men diagnosed with prostate cancer, it is estimated that there will be 21 deaths per 100,000 men per year.

While statistics can be intimidating, it is important to stay informed about your risks related to cancer. Of course statistics are not a guarantee that something will or will not happen, but it is important to utilize them when making health decisions. At the Center for Cancer Care at Gwinnett Medical Center, our experts can provide all the resources and services you need related to preventative care, early detection, diagnosis and treatment. Our compassionate, experienced oncologists and specialized staff will stay by your side every step of the way to ensure you receive the most complete care possible.

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