Behind the Headlines: Prostate Cancer Now Kills More People than Breast Cancer

02 February 2018

Today’s headlines about prostate cancer overtaking breast cancer as the UK’s third most common cause of cancer death certainly give pause for thought.

New figures have revealed that 11,819 men died in the UK from prostate cancer in 2015, while 11,442 women died from breast cancer.

Deaths from cancer can be measured in two ways – by the actual number of people who die from particular type of the disease, or by the number who die per 100,000 people. The latter is known as the mortality rate.

While the figures clearly show that more people are dying from prostate cancer than ever before, nationally the mortality rate actually decreased between 2010 and 2015 by 6%.

The number of women who die from breast cancer is steadily decreasing, and the mortality rate is also decreasing, dropping by 10% in the same time period – meaning that deaths from breast cancer are declining more quickly than deaths from prostate cancer.

So why is the number of men dying from prostate cancer increasing?

As our population grows and people live longer, more and more people will be diagnosed with cancer.

Prostate cancer is primarily a disease of older men. Those aged 50 and above are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with it. In 2015, the disease was most common in men aged 65-69.

If more men are being diagnosed, then sadly this can mean that more men will die. In recent years, survival rates have increased significantly thanks to a heightened awareness among men, the development of new treatments and the availability of new tools that can diagnose the disease earlier.

However, breast cancer research has traditionally received significantly more funding than prostate cancer research, and the latest figures have led to calls for more studies in this area to tackle the increase in deaths.

What’s the picture like in Yorkshire?

Statistics show that things are very similar in our region. Prostate cancer overtook breast cancer as the third most common cause of cancer a year earlier in 2014.

The graph below shows that while the numbers vary a bit more in Yorkshire, the general trend is the same.

In 2015, 987 men died from prostate cancer in Yorkshire, while 911 women died from breast cancer.

Yorkshire prostate and breast cancer mortality

You can see in the graph below that the mortality rate for prostate cancer has increased slightly in Yorkshire, from 46.32 deaths per 100,000 people in 2001 to 48.29 deaths per 100,000 people in 2015. The breast cancer mortality rate has decreased slightly.

Yorkshire prostate and breast cancer mortality rates

It’s important to note that lung cancer remains the most common cause of cancer death in Yorkshire and in the UK, closely followed by bowel cancer. 35,486 people in the UK lost their lives to lung cancer in 2015, while 16,067 people died from bowel cancer.

How is Yorkshire Cancer Research helping?

We are funding community health programmes in pharmacies, community settings and GP surgeries across Yorkshire to improve early diagnosis, which is key to saving lives. If a cancer is found early, it can usually be treated more successfully and the chances of survival are greater. Our cancer chats aim to give everyone the knowledge they need to live well and spot cancer early.

We are also dedicated to holding cancer support events, like our Life with Cancer day which took place in Harrogate in November last year. The event brought together a wealth of expert advice and information to help patients, their carers and family and friends live better with cancer.

And of course, we are supporting innovative research projects across Yorkshire, including bringing more clinical trials to the region so that patients have access to pioneering treatments.

It’s incredibly important that we continue to encourage men to seek advice from their doctor if they notice any unusual changes to their body.

Prostate cancer symptoms can include:

  • needing to urinate more frequently, often during the night
  • needing to rush to the toilet
  • difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)
  • straining or taking a long time while urinating
  • weak flow
  • feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully

If you or your partner notice any of these symptoms, please talk to a doctor or nurse.


Accessed: Feb 2018

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