Skip to main content

More People Surviving Cancer

Press release 8 April 2015

Cancer is becoming more common as the population ages. Despite this, the number of people surviving the disease is increasing. Two out of three cancer patients are now statistically estimated to recover from cancer within 5 years of diagnosis.

The estimated survival rates for cancer have improved by 4% during the most recent follow-up period 2010–2012 compared to the previous follow-up period 2007–2009.

The 5-year estimated relative survival rate of cancer patients is 66% for men and 69% for women. However, there is significant variation in survival between different cancer types, though for the most common cancers, like prostate cancer, the relative survival rate is 93% and for female breast cancer 90%.

The survival rate among cancer patients indicates the proportion of patients alive 5 years after the cancer diagnosis. When we compare this rate to the survival rate among general population of same age and sex, the resulting figure is termed a relative survival rate. If the relative survival rate is nearly 100%, this means correspondingly a low number of excess deaths caused by cancer. The closer the relative survival rate is to 100%, the fewer the deaths caused by cancer.

Regional differences published for the first time

New statistics now include information for the first time on regional differences in the survival rates of cancer patients between different university hospital catchment areas. The regional comparison concerns the survival of cancer patients from the most common cancer types.

There are no regional differences for most cancer types. Exceptions include skin melanoma, brain tumours, and prostate cancer, for which there are significant variations in relative survival rates. With brain tumours, especially, the number of benign brain tumours as a proportion of all brain tumours impacts survival rates.

We can explain regional differences by the coverage (whether a notification of all tumours to be included in the Finnish Cancer Registry actually has been made) and relevance of the data (whether enough detailed information has been obtained from the diagnosis to enable correct conclusions in the registration phase).

The extent of a cancer’s spread at the time of diagnosis has a significant effect on survival rates. For prostate cancer, regional differences might be explained by prostate specific antigen (PSA)-based screening. In the catchment areas of Helsinki and Tampere’s university hospitals, the active PSA screening tests increase the survival rates in relation to other areas. The PSA screening test identifies a large number of local, slowly progressive prostate cancer cases that would otherwise probably remain undiagnosed during the lifetime of the person in question.

In the catchment area of Oulu University Hospital, patients with metastatic melanoma of the skin had a larger risk of dying from cancer than in other parts of the country. However, melanoma is less common in the northern part of the country than in the large towns of southern Finland and only a small number of metastatic cancer cases were detected in Northern Finland. Yet, the results suggest that there may be delays in the diagnosis of melanoma in the northern part of the country. Both the patients’ ability to seek medical care and the availability of health care services affects potential delays.

Treatment also influences the survival rates, though there are not necessary differences in the quality of treatment itself. The patient’s own will, general condition, other diseases and the spread of cancer play an important role when deciding on treatment to be given.

Malignant hematologic diseases included in cancer statistics

In the most recent Finnish Cancer Registry’s statistics for the year 2013, the classification of malignant hematologic diseases was updated to bring it in line with the latest International Classification of Diseases. Myelodysplastic syndromes and myeloproliferative neoplasms were included in the total number of cancer cases. The revised classification clearly increased the total number of cancer cases as with the previous year.

According to the most recent cancer statistics, there were 32,092 new cancer cases in Finland in 2013. Prostate cancer, breast cancer and lung cancer were still the most common cancer types. They accounted for 39% of all new cancer cases and about one third of all cancer-related deaths.

Insufficient screening data

The colorectal cancer screening of adults aged 60−69 was carried out in 170 municipalities in 2013. Participation rates were on a similar level as before: about 61% of men and 74% of women took part. Colon and rectum cancer cases detected in screening accounted for only a minor amount of nearly 3,000 new cancer cases. This is because colorectal cancer is most common in elderly people, who are over 70 years of age, and colorectal cancer screening program is carried out in only approximately half of all Finnish municipalities.

Over 80% of women aged 50 to 69 invited for breast cancer screening in 2012 took part in it. However, reliable data on participation rates was not received from all hospital districts, as over 30 municipalities did not send the screening data to the national registry. Screening detected less than a third of all new breast cancers. It is predicted that the percentage of tumours detected by screening will rise to about 40%, as the screenings will eventually cover all women aged 50 to 69 by 2017.

There was regional variation in cervical screening participation rates. About 70% of women aged 30 to 60 invited for screening participated in the test. Cervical cancer screening aims at detecting abnormalities at a precancerous stage, so the number of cancers detected in the screening program will remain very low, being less than 10 % of the 150 cervical cancer cases diagnosed in Finland every year.

For further information, see the statistics of the Finnish Cancer Registry and Mass Screening Registry:
Statistics(opens in a new window)

The Finnish Cancer Registry maintains a nation-wide database of all cancer cases in Finland going back to 1953 and of the statutory population-based screenings for cervical and breast cancer. It is also an internationally active institute for statistical and epidemiological cancer research and population-based screening. The Finnish Cancer Registry is a part of the Cancer Society of Finland.

Further information

Nea Malila
Director of the Finnish Cancer Registry
Tel. +358 50 305 5730

Maarit Leinonen
Finnish Cancer Registry, Chief Medical Officer
Tel. +358 50 412 5841

Janne Pitkäniemi
Finnish Cancer Registry, Lead Statistician
Tel. +358 50 372 3335

Tytti Sarkeala
Finnish Cancer Registry, Chief of Screening
Tel. +358 50 411 4238

Kirsi Hakala
Cancer Society of Finland, Head of Communications
Tel. +358 50 441 8748

Email: firstname.surname(at)