STUMP » Articles » Mortality with Meep: Cancer Statistics -- an Introduction » 12 February 2020, 22:21

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Mortality with Meep: Cancer Statistics -- an Introduction  


12 February 2020, 22:21
World Cancer Day was last week, and I’m here with some good news: people are living longer with cancer.


When I taught actuarial science students at UConn, and talked to them about actuarial topics (I taught two separate classes: one on computing (Excel, Access, VBA) and one on writing (for their degree requirement)), many of the students told me that the stuff I talked about was really depressing.

In my view, there are loads of ways to look at this. I love looking at mortality rates, just because there is so much baked in there: behaviors, treatments, randomness, etc. Sometimes it’s really boring (and that’s good — looking up mortality rates by year to try to remember when the Spanish flu pandemic occurred is definitely more interesting than slow change…. but it’s not good.)

But when one looks over decades – you can see some really interesting stuff.

My point, though, is that we’re all going to die… eventually. There is no real good way to die – and if cancer were to be completely gone, that would be awesome.

It’s not completely gone… but people are dying from cancer less and less. Yes, it may eventually surpass heart disease as a cause of death, but that’s just because the drop in cancer mortality has been slower than that of heart disease… and because people are living longer!

The good news is that cancer stats, in general, have been improving for decades. Celebrate!


Here is an academic paper and here is a more layperson-friendly document with the most up-to-date statistics and projections about cancer in the United States, split out by gender, state, type of cancer, and many more dimensions.

There are a lot of numbers in there, and I will likely come back to this more than once.

I want to graph the really happy numbers: 5-year survival rates.


In the American Cancer Society document, in Table 7 you can find how cancer survival rates have changed from 1975 to 2015. In those 40 years, survivorship has massively improved for many types of cancer.

Let me graph some of these.

First, the top cancers as well as overall cancer survival rate:

And now the ones with the most improved survival rates: [in percentage points]

To be sure, some of these improvements could be due to simply detecting cancers earlier… but we will see that is not the only item in the dynamics.


One can get even more detailed statistics at SEER, the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program of the National Cancer Institute.

One can get all sorts of data from these tools, so I will dig into that over time, because we could all use some good news.

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