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Children’s cancer survival rates increase

A new report from NHS Digital shows that the 5-year cancer survival rate for 0-14 year olds increased over time, from 76.9% in 2002 to 85.2% in 2019, its highest recorded level.

This increase also held true for that age group across 1-year survival rates (89.7% in 2002 to 93.2% in 2019) and 10-year survival rates (74.6% in 2002 to 81.9% in 2019).

Childhood cancers accounted for 0.3% of all new cancer diagnoses registered in 2019 with the majority of cases being either leukaemia, malignant neoplasms of the brain or non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

The Cancer Survival in England for Patients Diagnosed Between 2015 and 2019 publication uses National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) data and provides information on survival rates for cancers in adults that were newly diagnosed between the 2015 and 2019 calendar years and in children that were newly diagnosed between 2002 and 2019 calendar years in England3

Breakdowns for adult survival are available by geography, sex, deprivation and diagnosis stage.


For the first time, deprivation breakdowns have also been included in the report4. This shows that for most cancer types, the net survival rate was lowest in the most deprived area and highest in the least deprived (net survival rate consistently decreases as deprivation increases)5.

The largest deprivation difference in 1-year age standardised net survival rates was seen in women with bladder cancer, where the variation was 13.4 percentage points between those women living in the most deprived areas (58.4%) and those in the least deprived areas (71.8%).

The report also shows that for cancers diagnosed between 2015 and 2019:

Survivability for adults

Skin cancer had the highest 5-year age standardised net survival rate (94.8%).

Pancreatic cancer and mesothelioma had the lowest 5-year age standardised net survival rates, at 7.8% and 6.3% respectively.

The increase and decrease in 5-year survival for several different cancers6 were also averaged over the ten different reporting periods for patients diagnosed between 2006-10 and 2015-197.  

This showed that for both males and females:

  • the biggest increase in survivability was in myeloma (average annual increases 1.0% for males and 1.4% for females)
  • the biggest decrease was in bladder cancer (average annual decreases 0.5% for males and 0.6% for females).

Stage at diagnosis

5-year age standardised net survival by stage ranges from 3.2% for stage 4 lung cancer for males to over 100% for stage 1 melanoma for females.8

Read the full report

Cancer Survival in England for Patients Diagnosed Between 2015 and 2019

Notes for editors

  1. This measure is for age-standardised, smoothed 5-year survival rates. Survival varies with age at diagnosis, and the age profile of patients can change over time. To enable comparison of overall survival in the age range 0 to 14 years over long periods of time, age-standardised estimates are calculated as a weighted sum of the age-specific survival estimates. For children, it is conventional to use equal weights for each of the 5-year age groups (0 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14 years), which is then equivalent to taking the simple arithmetic mean of the age-specific survival estimates.

    Smoothing was applied because of wide year-to-year variation in survival (due to sparse data). The smoothed data are used to highlight trends over time in survival.

    These data have been smoothed using the “lowess” technique (locally weighted scatterplot smoothing) because of the year-to-year variation in the survival estimates. The “lowess” technique is one of many techniques used to smooth time series in which year-on-year fluctuation occurs, to highlight the underlying trends over time.

    See the methodology and references resource in the data tables for more information.

  2. Survival estimates are only presented if sufficient data were available to make robust estimates of survival.
  3. Childhood cancer survival is estimated using a different method to adult cancer survival, without reference to the mortality in the general population. This allows annual estimates to be calculated, although interpretation should focus on trends rather than the individual estimates. 
  4. This measure breaks down cancer survival by Index of Multiple Deprivation (IMD). The IMD is the official measure of relative deprivation for small areas in England and is based on the postcode of residence at diagnosis.
  5. Adult cancer survival is calculated using net survival methods. Adult cancer patients often die from causes unrelated to their cancer diagnosis. To show only the effect of cancer deaths on survival, adult survival estimates are net survival estimates. Net survival estimates compare the survival of cancer patients with that of the general population.
  6. Trends in cancer survival for adults were analysed on all cancer groups and were possible to be reported for 12 cancers in females and 10 cancers in males. 
  7. For adults, trends in cancer survival are estimated as the change in net survival over ten 5-year aggregated diagnosis periods between 2006 and 2010 to 2015 and 2019. Non-standardised estimates are used to estimate a trend. These are presented as the average percentage point change per year. For children, the trends in cancer survival were estimated as the difference in overall survival for children diagnosed in 2002 compared to 2019. These are presented as the absolute difference in overall survival.
  8. Using net survival methods, survival greater than 100% can occur if the survival experience in cancer patients is greater than the survival experience of the general population. For example, a high proportion of breast cancers are screen-detected and women who attend screening have on average better health status, therefore are less likely to die from non-cancer causes than the general population. In this publication, 5-year age standardised net survival by stage is reported as 101.1% for stage 1 melanoma for females.
  9. This data comes from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS), the most comprehensive cancer dataset in the world.  It collects information on all cases of cancer in England to support improvements in prevention, cancer care and clinical outcomes, while reducing inequalities.


Channel website: https://digital.nhs.uk

Original article link: https://digital.nhs.uk/news/2021/childrens-cancer-survival-rates-increase

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