There are many different types of cancers. All are characterized by cells that start growing abnormally and spread to other parts of the body.

Based on Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015 (PDF document), 41% of Canadian women and 45% of men will develop cancer during their lifetimes. The number of new cancer cases continues to rise steadily as the Canadian population grows and ages. The risk of developing cancer increases dramatically with age.

Many cancers can be prevented or controlled through early detection, diet and physical activity, reduction of smoking and use of alcohol, and other healthy behaviours. Primary prevention activities focus on preventing cancer before it occurs while secondary prevention focuses on early detection and intervention.

Funded projects

Facts and Figures

The following information is taken from Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015 (PDF document):

Incidence and mortality by cancer type:

  • An estimated 196,900 new cases of cancer and 78,000 deaths from cancer will occur in Canada in 2015.
  • Of the newly diagnosed cases, in that same year, more than one-half (51%) will be lung, breast, colorectal, and prostate cancers.
  • It is expected that 1 in 4 Canadians will die of cancer.
  • Over one-quarter (27%) of all cancer deaths are attributed to lung cancer.
  • Between 2001 and 2010, overall age-standardized mortality rates declined by 1.8% per year for males. A similar decline of 1.2% per year for females was seen between 2002 and 2010.

Incidence and mortality by geographic region:

  • Generally, both incidence and mortality rates from cancer are higher in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. They are lowest in Alberta and British Columbia.

Incidence and mortality by age:

  • The risk of cancer increases with age, with 43% of new cancer cases and 62% of cancer deaths occurring among those 70 years of age and older.

For more facts and figures:


Risk factors

Different kinds of cancer have different risk factors. Many risk factors, such as getting older or family history, cannot be changed. But a number of cancers have been linked to risk factors that can be changed, such as tobacco use, poor diet, obesity, alcohol misuse and lack of exercise.

For more information on risk factors:

  • The Risk factor atlas from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows major chronic disease risk factors (with national trends over time, age-specific prevalence estimates, and maps of the prevalence of risk factors in health regions across the country) using data from the Statistics Canada Canadian Community Health Surveys (2005 and 2003).


Some cancers can be prevented. Primary prevention activities focus on preventing cancer before it occurs while secondary prevention focuses on early detection and intervention.

For more information on primary prevention:

  • Public Health Agency of Canada information on prevention including steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of cancer.
  • Canadian Partnership Against Cancer lists prevention resources and provides links to key reports on cancer.
  • The World Health Organization site provides information on cancer prevention (including information on tobacco, physical inactivity, nutrition and alcohol use).
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer, by the World Health Organisation publishes a number of IARC Handbooks of cancer prevention which address issues such as the effectiveness of taxes, policies, screening, and health changes.
  • The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides a list of Fact Sheets that summarize the results of studies related to a variety of cancer prevention strategies.

For more information on secondary prevention:

Screening tests can help identify cancer before any symptoms appear – a range of screening programs exist across Canada for breast, colorectal, cervical and lung cancers.



Canada is one of the few countries in the world with a National cancer control plan. The goals of the Canadian strategy for cancer control are to reduce the expected number of Canadians being diagnosed with cancer, lessen the severity of the illness, enhance the quality of life of those living with cancer, and to reduce the likelihood of dying from cancer. The accomplishment of these goals is proposed through coordinated, system-level change.

The goal of the strategy, Sustaining action toward a shared vision: 2012-2017 strategic plan (PDF document) by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, is to guide the next phase of the implementation of the Canadian strategy for cancer control.


The First Nations, Inuit and Métis action plan on cancer control aims to build a knowledge base prior to putting evidence into practice in leading/promising practices to address priorities. Prevention actions touch on interrelated chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (2011).

Provincial/Territorial Strategies


The strategic plan, Changing our future: Alberta’s cancer plan for 2030 (PDF document) by Alberta Health (2013), provides a comprehensive planning framework to guide the development of a high-performing system of cancer prevention, screening, care and research in Alberta.


Manitoba’s cancer strategy 2012-2017 (PDF document) by the government of Manitoba, builds on the 2007 provincial cancer strategic framework to advocate for integrated prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, palliative care and survivorship. It includes a major emphasis on measuring need and on addressing inequalities.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The goal of Gaining ground: A provincial cancer control policy framework for Newfoundland and Labrador 2010 (PDF document) by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, is to provide key policy directions to guide cancer control efforts through action plans developed by regional health authorities and community-based organizations.


The Ontario Cancer Plan 2011-2015 by Cancer Care Ontario, is part of an ongoing commitment since 2005 to reduce the risks of developing cancer, improving the quality of care and treatment for both current and future patients. It includes prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment follow-up and palliative care.


The Plan d’action en cancérologie 2013-2015 – Ensemble, en réseau, pour vaincre le cancer (French only) is a provincial government cancer action plan that consists of five priorities including early interventions to prevent cancer.

Prince Edward Island

The document, Partners taking action: A cancer control strategy for Prince Edward Island 2004-2015 (PDF document) was developed by the Prince Edward Island Health and Social Services and the Canadian Cancer Society. Recommendations for a cancer strategy are based on the five aspects of cancer control namely prevention, screening and diagnosis, treatment and supportive care, palliative and end-of-life care, and survivorship.

International Strategies

The International cancer control partnership portal contains resources and cancer plans from a group of international organisations engaged in cancer control planning efforts.


Cancer Australia Strategic Plan 2014-2019 This national strategy aims to reduce cancer incidence and mortality, and improve the quality of life for people affected by cancer in part by capitalising on partnerships and coordination in cancer control efforts (2014).


France’s Plan cancer 2014 – 2019 (French only) continues the work of two previous National cancer strategies to build on the collective action of stakeholders and mobilize cancer care and prevention efforts ranging from research to the provision of care. This plan includes a focus on reducing health inequities.

New Zealand

The New Zealand Cancer Plan: Better, faster care 2015-2018 by the Ministry of Health, enumerates the activities that are currently under way as part of a concerted effort to improve cancer-related outcomes for all New Zealanders: includes a focus on equity and a pathway for cancer prevention and early detection (2014).

United Kingdom

The Department of Health aims to set out actions to tackle the preventable causes of cancer, and improve cancer outcomes with their plan Improving outcomes: A strategy for cancer (2011).



United States


Surveillance refers to the systematic, regular collection, analysis and interpretation of data for a given population, to detect changes in patterns of disease or determinants of disease, with action taken if predefined criteria or thresholds are met.

Canadian Sources of information on cancer surveillance:

  • The Public Health Agency of Canada provides Chronic Disease Infobase Data Cubes which are interactive databases that allow users to create tables and graphs using their web browser and interactive maps providing current statistics on priority chronic disease and risk factor prevalence in Canada as well as for other non-communicable diseases.
  • The Canadian Cancer Registry from Statistics Canada enables a keyword search for information about cancer statistics.
  • The Canadian cancer incidence atlas, Volume 2: 2000-2006 The Atlas presents 37 detailed maps and summary text on the epidemiology and risk factors for 23 of the most common cancer sites in Canada. The accompanying Epidemiological Overview provides a concise 30-page summary of the Atlas. Public Health Agency of Canada (2014).

Aboriginal reports on cancer

Provincial/Territorial Strategies

Northwest Territories


International Sources of information on cancer surveillance:

New Zealand

The annual report Cancer: New Registrations and Deaths 2011 by the Ministry of Health collates and analyses data on primary malignant tumour cases with the exception of basal and squamous cancers of the skin (2014).

United Kingdom

Coordinated by Public Health England, the National Cancer Intelligence Network includes a repository of Nation-wide cancer-related patient information as part of an initiative that aims to drive improvements in standards of cancer care.

United States

The National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute provides access to statistics for specific cancers, interactive maps, graphs and the latest topical reports (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).




Provincial/Territorial Cancer Sites


  • Alberta Health Services cancer site with information for health professionals including guidelines, research and cancer education.

British Columbia

  • The British Columbia Cancer Agency, an agency of the B. C. Provincial Health Services Authorities containing information for health professionals (cancer management guidelines, chemotherapy protocols, cancer drug manual, etc.).


  • Cancer Care Manitoba is the provincially mandated cancer agency tasked with providing cancer services to the people of Manitoba. The organization’s web site contains information for health professionals including cancer management guidelines, information for nurses, supportive and palliative care, etc.

New Brunswick

  • The New Brunswick Cancer Network is a division of the Department of Health, established to create an evidence-based provincial strategy for all elements of cancer care, including prevention, screening, treatment, follow-up care, palliative care, education, and research. The organization’s site includes information on standardized pathology reporting, clinical practice guidelines, etc.

Nova Scotia

  • Cancer Care Nova Scotia is a program of the Department of Health and Wellness. The organization has a web site for health professionals which focus on oncology education.


  • Cancer Care Ontario is the provincial agency responsible for continually improving cancer services, and for serving as the government’s cancer advisor. The web site contains a tool box including evidence-based guidelines, information on cancer drugs, and tools for: symptom management, surgical oncology, palliative care and multidisciplinary cancer conferences.

Prince Edward Island

  • The Prince Edward Island Cancer Treatment Centre is part of the provincial Department of Health and Wellness. Patient information, treatment programs, information on prevention and screening and a list of resources are on the site.


  • Quebec’s Cancer site is part of the provincial Department of Health and Social Services. Information on screening and a list of resources are on the site. (French only).


Tools and resources

  • Public Health Agency of Canada cancer resources.
  • provides information to facilitate the adoption and implementation of effective policies/programs/interventions at the local and regional public health decision making levels across Canada.
  • World Health Organization cancer fact sheet with information on the scope of the issue, causes, risk factors, how to decrease risk factors, early treatment, palliative care, etc.