Why do cancer survival rates vary across countries?
Several factors influence survival after a diagnosis of cancer. The most common factors are the type of cancer diagnosed, available treatment, and the stage at which cancer is diagnosed and the onset of treatment. Generally, earlier detection of cancer is associated with improved outcomes and survival.
Over the last few decades, advances in screening programmes and treatments have improved the rates for some site-specific cancers. However, healthcare systems differ between countries, and disparities in access to healthcare exist within countries. Both factors contribute to differences in survival rates. Although there is some variation in survival rates between high-income countries, generally, lower income countries have lower survival rates.
There is a growing body of research on the links between diet, nutrition and physical activity and cancer survival. Our Continuous Update Project – the world’s largest source of scientific research on cancer prevention and survivorship through diet, nutrition and physical activity – found some, though limited, evidence that being a healthy weight, being physically active, and following a healthy diet (in particular, eating foods containing fibre and soy, as well as lower intake of saturated fat) may improve survival after breast cancer.
However, more research is needed in order to make recommendations on diet, nutrition and physical activity for survival from other site-specific cancers and cancer overall. Unless advised otherwise, we recommended following our Cancer Prevention Recommendations after a cancer diagnosis, following the acute stage of treatment (wherein the dietary advice an individual receives from their doctor should be followed), as these may also help to prevent other non-communicable diseases (such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes).
Why do survival rates vary across cancers?
Survival rates vary by cancer type as well as being influenced by stage of detection, diagnosis and treatment. For example, the latest UK data shows the 5-year age-standardised survival rate for breast cancer – that is, the percentage of people who are alive 5 years after diagnosis – is over 80%. However, some cancers, such as lung cancer, have a 5-year survival rate of less than 20%.
A partial explanation for higher survival rates for some cancer types is the greater proportion of patients diagnosed at an earlier stage. This may be due to the availability and uptake of screening programmes, leading to earlier detection and diagnosis.
Survival can also depend on an individual’s health, presence of comorbidities and other tumour-related factors. Despite advances in research and technology, some cancer types remain difficult to diagnose and/or treat in comparison to other cancer types.
Survival rate definitions
- 1-year survival rate: the percentage of people who have been diagnosed with cancer and are still alive one year after diagnosis or start of treatment.
- 5-year survival rate: the percentage of people who have been diagnosed with cancer and are still alive five years after diagnosis or start of treatment.
These statistics are usually specific to cancer sites but can be reported for all cancers together.
Cancer survival data
> Download cancer survival statistics (xlsx) for:
Stages of cancer in different countries
As different countries use different systems for staging cancers, it is important to compare like with like. This table (xlsx) shows an approximation of the equivalent cancer stages for the UK (TNM stage) and US (SS2000 stage). This is based on the work of the International Cancer Benchmarking Project.
UK – UICC TNM Classification
US – SEER SS200 Classification