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Official statistics show long term decrease in age-adjusted rate of cancer deaths but increased deprivation gap

Published: 28 February 2024

The latest official statistics from Public Health Wales show that the rate of cancer deaths, when adjusted for age, has declined by more than 16 per cent between 2002 and 2022. 

The report also shows that the ‘deprivation gap’ for cancer mortality has grown by 17 percentage points over the past twenty years. 

The latest official statistics from the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU) show that the overall rate of deaths from all cancers*, when adjusted for age, has declined by more than 16 per cent between 2002 and 2022.  Although there have been points during this period where the decline has plateaued and much of the decrease has occurred during the earlier part of the period. 

Even though the actual number of deaths from cancer has increased, the change in the make-up of the overall population – because people are living longer – means that the age-adjusted rate at which people are dying from cancer has actually gone down.  The number of deaths from cancer in 2022 – 9,154 – is higher than in the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, but comparable to pre-pandemic levels.   

The data also show that the mortality rate for all cancers combined* was 44 per cent higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas in 2022, a gap which has increased from 27 per cent in 2002. 

The deprivation gap is driven by deaths from lung cancer, and the gap for this cancer has widened since 2002, with the deaths in the most deprived areas being 2.5 times higher than in the least deprived.   

The deprivation gap corresponds with smoking prevalence, with the National Survey for Wales showing that in 2022-23, more than 21 per cent of adults in the most deprived areas of Wales reported smoking – nearly three times higher than the least deprived. 

Cancer is still the most common cause of deaths in Wales, and lung cancer the most common cancer to cause death, causing two in every ten deaths from cancer in Wales.  Four in ten of all cancer deaths are caused by lung, bowel, prostate and female breast cancer. 

Nathan Lester, Head of Observatory & Cancer Analysis Team for Public Health Wales, said: “Clearly, every death from cancer is a tragedy for the friends and family of the person who has died.  

“These latest statistics provide us with information about the trends in cancer mortality over a twenty year period – which combined with the changes in the overall population show that the rate of mortality due to cancer is declining. 

“The significantly increased gap in the mortality rate between the most deprived and least deprived areas is a concern, particularly so with lung cancer as rates of smoking in areas of greater deprivation are stubbornly persistent. 

“It is also encouraging to see this data returning to pre-pandemic levels, as it enables us to get a clearer picture of the information around cancer, and to establish longer term trends.” 

The latest data can be found on the WCISU cancer reporting tool