As Canada’s population grows and ages, the cancer burden will remain high and even
increase in 2020, according to a study on projected cancer rates published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).
Nearly one in two Canadians are expected to receive a diagnosis of cancer in their lifetime, and cancer is the leading cause of death in the country. With an aging population, deaths from cancer and the numbers of new cases are increasing, as are cancer-related costs. For
example, cancer care costs rose from Can$2.9 billion in 2005 to Can$7.5 billion in 2012.
“The overall burden of cancer remains high in Canada and, owing to the growing and aging
population, the number of cases and deaths will likely continue to increase,” writes Dr. Leah
Smith, Canadian Cancer Society, St. John’s, Newfoundland, with coauthors.
The researchers estimate there will be 225 800 new diagnoses of cancer in 2020 in Canada with cases of lung cancer (29 800), breast cancer (27 700), colorectal cancer (26 900) and prostate cancer (23 300) accounting for almost half (48%) of new cancer diagnoses.
• Lung cancer will be the leading cause of death, responsible for about 1 in 4 of the
estimated 83 300 deaths from cancer expected in 2020.
• The number of new cancer cases is expected to be about 5% higher in men than in
• More men than women are expected to die from all forms of cancer except for breast
• In men, prostate cancer will be the most commonly diagnosed cancer, accounting for
about 1 in every 5 diagnoses.
• Breast cancer is expected to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women,
accounting for about 1 in 4 new cases.
• Deaths from breast cancer have decreased by nearly half since the mid-1980s, largely
owing to improved treatment.
• Colorectal cancer deaths are also declining, which may be partly because of decreasing
tobacco use and improvements in detection and treatment. Between 2007 and 2016,
the Yukon territory and all provinces except Quebec introduced organized screening
• While the death rates for lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers have declined,
deaths from pancreatic cancer have remained stable; this means pancreatic cancer is
expected to surpass breast cancer as the third leading cause of cancer death in
“Although estimates for the number of cancer diagnoses and deaths in 2020 are higher than in 2019, the declining rates indicate progress is being made,” says Dr. Smith. “This is largely due to prevention programs like smoking cessation and improvements in screening and early detection practices.”
“Additional efforts to improve uptake of existing programs, as well as to advance research,
prevention, screening and treatment, are needed,” the authors conclude.
The research team included researchers from the Cumming School of Medicine, University
of Calgary; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Public Health Agency of
Canada; Statistics Canada; Canadian Partnership Against Cancer; Canadian Cancer
Society; CancerCare Manitoba; and BC Cancer.
The Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada
supported the study.
“Projected burden of cancer in Canada in 2020” was published March 2, 2020.