Cancer mortality rates

This indicator looks at breast, cervical and colorectal cancer mortality as indicators of the quality of cancer services.


Last updated: 29/06/2022

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Primary and community care Hospital care International


The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) uses cancer survival rates as indicators of the quality of care provided by healthcare systems, together with cancer screening and mortality indicators. Here we look at international comparisons of mortality from breast and colorectal cancer, which reflect both the quality of the healthcare system (e.g. prevention, early detection and treatment) and also incidence rates (the number of new cancer cases per 100,000 population).

How does breast cancer mortality compare internationally over time? 29/06/2022

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Breast cancer mortality has been declining in the UK, falling from 37.7 deaths per 100,000 women in 2001 to 27.9 deaths per 100,000 women in 2016. However, the UK consistently has a relatively high breast cancer mortality rate compared with other countries. The comparator countries with the lowest mortality rates are Japan and Spain. Japan has a high proportion of women diagnosed at an early stage of breast cancer, which may correspond with its relatively low mortality rates. However, in many Asian countries, the incidence of breast cancer is increasing, which may be due to a rise in risk factors known in Western populations such as delayed childbearing and Westernized dietary and lifestyle patterns.

How does colorectal cancer mortality compare internationally over time? 29/06/2022

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Colorectal cancer mortality has been slowly decreasing over time in the UK, falling from 26.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 to 21.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 2016. The UK’s performance is about average among comparator countries. In the same year, the United States had the lowest mortality rate of the comparator countries at 16 deaths per 100,000 population.

About this data

Definitions and comparability for the indicators are taken directly from the OECD report Health at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators. Detailed information about the definitions and the source and methods for each country can be found here.

Mortality rates are based on numbers of deaths registered in a country in a year, divided by the size of the corresponding population. The rates have been directly age-standardised to the 2010 OECD population to remove variations arising from differences in age structures across countries and over time. The OECD extracts data on the number of deaths from the WHO Mortality Database.

Deaths from all cancers are classified to ICD-10 codes C00-C97. The international comparability of cancer mortality data can be affected by differences in medical training and practices as well as in death certification across countries.