Cancer incidence in Canada, 2019
In 2019, the rate of new cancer diagnoses increased from 547.5 to 550.2 cases per 100,000 Canadians, according to data from Canadian Cancer Registry (CCR), the country's national cancer database. The increase in the overall number of cases is a consequence of both population growth and population aging. In keeping with the previous years, the five most commonly diagnosed cancers remained those of the breast (13.1%), lung and bronchus (12.3%), prostate (11.4%), colorectal (10.4%) and urinary bladder (4.9%). Together, these five cancer types accounted for over half of all cancer diagnoses in 2019. It should be noted that these results predate the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact that it has possibly had on cancer screening and diagnosis.
Cancer incidence is influenced by factors such as screening policies, data collection, healthcare access, and lifestyle differences that vary significantly between regions. In Canada, some noteworthy provincial and territorial variation is observed with respect to the rate at which new cancer cases are diagnosed. The comparisons below do not include data from Quebec and Nova Scotia, as no cases diagnosed in 2019 from these two provinces were submitted to the CCR.
East-west gradient for all cancers combined
When considering all cancer types together, an east-west gradient is observed with generally higher incidence rates in the Atlantic provinces and lower rates in the Prairies and British Columbia. This finding holds after accounting for the differing population age structures across Canadian jurisdictions. The highest provincial cancer incidence rate was observed in Newfoundland and Labrador (531.2 cases per 100,000 people), while the lowest provincial rate was in British Columbia (472.3 cases per 100,000 people). The highest cancer incidence rate among males was recorded in Prince Edward Island (608.1 cases per 100,000 males) and was significantly higher than the highest provincial rate among females (508.1 cases per 100,000 females in Newfoundland and Labrador). At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest rates for both males and females were observed in British Columbia (518.9 cases per 100,000 males and 434.1 cases per 100,000 females).
Cancer incidence rates in the territories can vary considerably from one year to the next due to low case counts and smaller population sizes. However, estimates tend to be somewhat higher in the Northwest Territories (580.3 cases per 100,000 people) than in Yukon (459.8 cases per 100,000 people) and Nunavut (447.7 cases per 100,000 people). This difference reflects in large part the higher incidence of colorectal cancer in the Northwest Territories than in the other two territories.
Geographic patterns vary by cancer type
The east-west gradient observed for all cancers combined also holds for lung and bronchus and colorectal cancer, which are characterized by higher rates in the Atlantic provinces, mid-range rates in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and lower rates in Alberta and British Columbia. However, this is not the case for other commonly diagnosed cancer types. The highest incidence rates for female breast cancer were observed in Alberta (139.0 cases per 100,000 females) and Ontario (133.2 cases per 100,000 females), whereas the lowest rates were in New Brunswick (103.0 cases per 100,000 females) and Prince Edward Island (113.4 cases per 100,000 females). Meanwhile, prostate cancer incidence rates were higher in Manitoba (140.3 cases per 100,000 males) and Alberta (137.3 cases per 100,000 males) than in Prince Edward Island (114.7 cases per 100,000 males) and Ontario (110.2 cases per 100,000 males).
Melanoma of the skin, whose incidence has been increasing by 2% every year for the past 35 years, was characterized by lower rates in Saskatchewan (17.1 cases per 100,000 people) and Newfoundland and Labrador (17.5 cases per 100,000 people) and a higher rate in Prince Edward Island (31.6 cases per 100,000 people).
Projected Canadian cancer estimates for 2022 by sex and cancer type are also available in a related publication. These projected estimates aim at providing an overview of the expected burden of cancer by considering recent trends specific to each cancer for both males and females. According to these projections, an estimated 233,900 new cancer cases and 85,100 cancer deaths are expected in Canada in 2022.
Note to readers
The Canadian Cancer Registry (CCR) is a population-based registry that includes data collected and reported to Statistics Canada by each provincial or territorial cancer registry. The goal of the person-based CCR is to collect information about each new primary cancer diagnosed among Canadian residents since 1992.
Cancer incidence refers to the number of new cases of cancer in a population over a given period, usually one year. The cancer incidence rate is typically expressed as the number of new cancer cases per 100,000 people. The interprovincial comparisons presented above are based on incidence rates that were age-standardized using the 2011 Canadian standard population to take into consideration any differences in the age structure of the provinces and territories. Consequently, they are lower than the crude rates presented in the first paragraph.
Cancer incidence data for Quebec are not available for diagnosis years 2011 onward. For tables 13-10-0111-01, 13-10-0747-01 and 13-10-0840-01, cancer incidence estimates for Canada excluding Quebec were produced for all diagnosis years up to 2018. Cancer incidence data for Nova Scotia are also currently unavailable for diagnosis year 2019. Consequently, the estimates for Canada excluding Quebec are unavailable for the latest data point in the aforementioned tables. The estimates reported in the first paragraph of this article exclude data from both Quebec and Nova Scotia. However, the 2011 to 2017 Quebec data are scheduled to be incorporated into the tables that will be released next year (link in French only).
As the CCR is updated annually with new records and changes to previous records, the incidence for any given diagnosis year may change from one release to the next. In particular, delays in the reporting of new cases to Statistics Canada typically result in undercounts of cases which are more pronounced in the most recently reported diagnosis year. Generally, the reporting delay ranges between 2% and 3% nationally. In addition, cases for which sole source of identification was through a death certificate (referred to as death certificate only cases) were not reported by Nova Scotia for 2018 and they have not been reported by Manitoba since 2013. Consequently, about 450 cases are not reflected in the current version of the database but will eventually be reported to the CCR.
The category "all cancers combined" refers to all invasive cancers, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer but including in situ urinary bladder cancer.
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