Cancer diagnosis at an early stage

Published

Contents
  1. 1. Main facts and figures
  2. 2. By ethnicity
  3. 3. Methodology
  4. 4. Data sources
  5. 5. Download the data

1. Main facts and figures

  • overall, the percentage of new cancer diagnoses in England that were made at an early stage increased from 50.7% in 2014 to 52.6% in 2016; however, this result almost certainly reflects improvements in the data
  • the percentage of new cancer diagnoses made at an early stage also increased within all ethnic groups over this period; however, the increases among White and Asian patients were the only reliable results, and again almost certainly reflect improvements in the data
Things you need to know

The statistics here are called ‘experimental’ because of the variation in data quality.

Improvements in the early diagnosis of cancers as shown here between 2014 and 2016 partly reflect real improvements in the early diagnosis of cancers. However, they mostly reflect improvements in data quality. This is because the extent of recording data about cancer stages when making diagnoses has improved considerably between 2012 and 2016, but still varies. You should therefore use caution when comparing data from different years. You can compare different groups within the same year with more confidence.

When new cancers are diagnosed but the stage is not recorded, the resulting statistics will show a low percentage of all cases diagnosed at stage 1 or 2. If more cases of cancer are identified by stage, the percentage of early stage cancers will tend to increase.

Steps are taken to exclude data where it is not robust enough to produce a meaningful indicator. Data is excluded from those areas where information is available on the stage of cancer for fewer than 70% of cases diagnosed with a cancer covered by these statistics.

The particular types of cancers diagnosed will also impact on the percentage of early stage cancers diagnosed. For example, breast cancer is far more likely to be diagnosed at an early stage than lung cancer.

Ethnicity was not known for 7% of the patients with new cases of cancer in 2016. The percentages for all ethnic groups combined (‘All’) includes those with unknown ethnicity. Data for those with unknown ethnicity can be found in the data download file.

What the data measures

This data measures new cases of cancer diagnosed at an early stage as a percentage of all new cases of cancer diagnosed, broken down by broad ethnic groups.

Only specific types of cancer are included in the data. These are:

  • bladder
  • invasive malignancies of breast
  • colorectal
  • kidney
  • lung
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • ovarian
  • prostate
  • invasive melanoma of skin
  • uterus

‘Staging’ is a way of describing the size of a cancer and how far it has grown. ‘Early stage’ in these statistics mean that the cancer was diagnosed at stage 1 or stage 2.

Stage 1 usually means that a cancer is relatively small and contained within the organ it started in. Stage 2 usually means the cancer has not begun to spread into surrounding tissue but that the tumour is larger than in stage 1.

These statistics show the crude percentage of cancers of a particular type that were diagnosed at early stages. The crude percentage is calculated as the number of these new cancer cases diagnosed at stage 1 and 2 in each area of England divided by the total number of these new cancer cases in the same area and multiplied by 100.

The ethnic categories used in this data

This data breaks down the population into the standard ethnic groups used in analysis by the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS).

The groups are:

  • Asian
  • Black
  • Chinese
  • Mixed
  • White
  • Other

There’s an extra category for patients whose ethnicity was unknown.

NCRAS uses these groups because of the need to compare data from different sources and time periods.

Although more detailed data is collected, analysis using more specific ethnic groups is difficult as the numbers of patients are small.

2. By ethnicity

Percentage of new cancer diagnoses made at an early stage, by ethnicity
Ethnicity 2014 2015 2016
% % %
All 50.7 52.4 52.6
Asian 52.8 55.7 55.8
Black 53.7 54.0 53.8
Chinese 51.3 56.2 56.5
Mixed 50.1 54.3 54.0
White 50.7 52.5 52.8
Other 49.2 50.2 53.0

Download table data (CSV) Source data (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • overall, the percentage of new cancer diagnoses at stage 1 or 2 increased from 50.7% in 2014 to 52.6% in 2016; however, this almost certainly reflects improvements in the data
  • the percentage of new cancer diagnoses at an early stage also increased within all ethnic groups between 2014 and 2016, although the increase between 2015 and 2016 was smaller than in the previous year; these increases also reflects improvements in data
  • in 2016, the Chinese ethnic group had the highest percentage of cancers diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 (56.5%); however, it's not possible to draw firm conclusions about this result because of the relatively small number of new cancer diagnoses for the Chinese ethnic group in 2016

3. Methodology

A range of healthcare providers and other services (for example, pathology laboratories) submit cancer incidence data for England (that is, the number of people diagnosed with cancer over time). This data is sent to the regional offices of the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS), which is part of Public Health England.

The quality and accuracy of the data submitted by different sources may vary. The regional offices of NCRAS collate all the data for each patient, including checks for internal consistency of the sequence of dates, as well as which part of the body the cancer affects, its morphology and the patient’s sex. NCRAS also checks for duplicate registrations.

In recognition of the effect of natural variation, 95% confidence intervals are calculated around estimates for new cancer diagnoses at an early stage and these should be considered when interpreting results.

Confidence intervals are used to determine whether any differences in the figures are likely to be real, or due to natural variation.

In statistical terms, a 95% confidence interval means that if 100 random samples were taken from the data, then 95 times out of 100 the estimate would fall in this range (that is, between the upper and lower confidence interval). But 5 times out of 100 it would fall outside this range.

The width of the confidence interval varies with the number of cancer diagnoses upon which it is based. The smaller the number, the wider the confidence interval, because less data means greater uncertainty.

Therefore, for the White ethnic group, which has the largest number of new diagnoses, the confidence intervals range from 52.5% to 53.0% in 2016. For the Chinese ethnic group, which has the smallest number, the confidence intervals range from 52.2% to 60.7%.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

Values based on less than 70% staging coverage are suppressed as they are considered unreliable.

Rounding

Percentages are rounded to 1 decimal place.

Related publications

National cancer strategy

Further technical information

Public Health Outcomes Framework – indicator definitions and supporting information

4. Data sources

Source

Type of data

Administrative data

Type of statistic

Official statistics

Publisher

Public Health England

Publication frequency

Yearly

Purpose of data source

Cancer is a major cause of death, accounting for around a quarter of deaths in England. More than 1 in 3 people will develop cancer at some point in their life.

Diagnosis at an early stage of the cancer’s development leads to improved survival chances.

Specific public health interventions, such as screening programmes and information and education campaigns, aim to improve rates of early diagnosis.

The percentage of cancers diagnosed at an early stage is therefore a useful way of assessing improvements in cancer survival rates.

Secondary source

Type of data

Administrative data

Publisher

Public Health England

Publication frequency

N/A – statistics are not published but shared with other government departments who have permission to access the data

5. Download the data

Cancer diagnosis at an early stage - Spreadsheet (csv) 2 KB

This file contains the following: ethnicity, year, value, denominator, numerator, confidence intervals