Cancer mortality rates

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



Last updated: 27/06/2024


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 two of the most common cancers (breast and colorectal), 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).

International comparisons of cancer mortality

In 2021, breast cancer accounted for 1% of the causes of mortality and 15% of the cancer-related mortality causes for women across OECD countries. Breast cancer mortality has been declining in the UK, falling from 41 deaths per 100,000 women in 2001 to 29 deaths per 100,000 women in 2020. However, the UK has consistently had a relatively high breast cancer mortality rate compared with other countries despite more women (64%) being screened for breast cancer in the UK than the OECD average (55%). The comparator countries with the highest mortality rates are Demark and Ireland, whilst the ones 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 including Japan, the incidence of breast cancer is increasing, which has been attributed in part to the adoption of Western diets and lifestyle.

How does colorectal cancer mortality compare internationally over time?

In 2021, colorectal cancer accounted for 2% of all the causes of mortality and 11% of the cancer-related mortality causes across OECD countries. Colorectal cancer mortality has been slowly decreasing over time for most countries. The average deaths per 100,000 population across these OECD countries with reported data was 30 in 2001; it has since come down to 21 in 2020. In the UK, the age-standardised rate fell from 28 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 to 23 deaths per 100,000 population in 2020. The UK’s performance is about average among comparator countries. In 2020, the United States had the lowest mortality rate of the comparator countries at 16 deaths per 100,000 population, whilst Spain had the highest with 25 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 2023: OECD Indicators and OECD Data Explorer. The OECD.Stat platform which hosted the data until June 2023 has been replaced by the OECD Data Explorer. This transfer may have affected some of the datasets, causing a delay in updates. Detailed information about the definitions and the source and methods for each country can be found here.

Mortality rates are based on the number 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 2015 OECD population to remove variations arising from differences in age structures across countries and over time. Previous versions of the database used the 2010 OECD population as the reference population. 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. There may be breaks in the series due to implementation of a new revision of ICD-10. 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.