Early cancer diagnosis

Published

1. Main facts and figures

  • in 2017, 52.2% of new cancer diagnoses in England were made at an early stage (at stage 1 or 2), down from 52.6% in 2016
  • between 2016 and 2017, the percentage of new cancer diagnoses made at an early stage decreased in all ethnic groups except Black and Other
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 2017 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 2017 (although it still varies).

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 cases diagnosed at stage 1 or 2. If more cases of cancer are identified by stage, the percentage of early stage cancers tends to increase.

Data is excluded if:

  • it is not robust enough to be meaningful
  • it is from an area where information is available for fewer than 70% of cases (for the cancers covered by these statistics)

Particular types of cancer 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 5% of the patients with new cases of cancer in 2017. The percentages for all ethnic groups combined (‘All’) includes patients whose ethnicity wasn’t known.

Data for those with unknown ethnicity can be found in the data download file.

What the data measures

This data measures the percentage of new cases of cancer that were diagnosed at an early stage. The data is broken down by ethnicity.

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

  • bladder
  • breast
  • colorectal
  • kidney
  • lung
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • ovarian
  • prostate
  • skin melanoma
  • 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.

The ethnic categories used in this data

This data uses the 6 broad ethnic groups used in analysis by the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS):

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

There is 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 over time

Percentage of new cancer diagnoses that were made at an early stage, by ethnicity over time
Ethnicity 2014 2015 2016 2017
% % % %
All 50.7 52.4 52.6 52.2
Asian 52.8 55.7 55.8 54.8
Black 53.7 54.0 53.8 55.4
Chinese 51.3 56.2 56.5 56.4
Mixed 50.1 54.3 54.0 52.6
White 50.7 52.5 52.8 52.2
Other 49.2 50.2 53.0 54.2
Unknown 48.5 50.3 48.2 50.0

Download table data for ‘By ethnicity over time’ (CSV) Source data for ‘By ethnicity over time’ (CSV)

Summary

This data shows that:

  • from 2016 to 2017, the percentage of new cancer diagnoses in England that were made at an early stage (stage 1 or 2) decreased from 52.6% to 52.2%
  • in the same period, the percentage of new cancer diagnoses that were made at an early stage decreased in every ethnic group except Black and Other
  • in 2017, the Chinese ethnic group had the highest percentage of cancers diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 (56.4%) – however, this is based on a relatively small number of new cancer diagnoses so it’s not possible to make reliable generalisations

3. Methodology

Healthcare providers and other services in England (for example, pathology laboratories) submit data to the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service (NCRAS) on the number of people diagnosed with cancer over time.

The quality and accuracy of the data submitted by different sources may vary. The NCRAS collates 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 type and development and the patient’s sex. It also checks for duplicate registrations.

Confidence intervals:

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 interval ranges from 51.9% to 52.4% in 2017. For the Chinese ethnic group, which has the smallest number, the confidence interval ranges from 51.9% to 60.8%.

Suppression rules and disclosure control

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

Rounding

Data is rounded to 1 decimal point in charts and tables, and unrounded in the data download.

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.

Monitoring the proportion of cancers diagnosed at an early stage can be used as an alternative measure to assess improvements in cancer survival rates

Secondary source

Type of data

Administrative data

Type of statistic

Experimental statistics

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) 7 KB

Measure, Ethnicity, Ethnicity_Type, Time, Time_Type, Geography, Geography_Type, Geography_Code, Gender, Age, Value, Value_Type, Denominator, Numerator, Confidence intervals