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USCS Technical Notes

The Impact of Cancer

Cancer is the second-leading cause of death among Americans. One of every four deaths in the United States is due to cancer.1 2 The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2014, about 1,665,540 Americans were diagnosed with invasive cancer, and 585,720 Americans died of this disease.1 These estimates do not include in situ cancers or the more than 1 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers that were expected to be diagnosed. The National Cancer Institute estimated that on January 1, 2011, 13.4 million Americans were alive with a history of invasive cancer.3

The National Institutes of Health estimated that for 2009, the overall annual cost of cancer was about $216.6 billion,4 broken down as follows—

  • Direct medical costs,* including health expenditures: $86.6 billion.
  • Indirect costs associated with lost productivity due to premature death: $130.0 billion.

These costs likely increased because of the growth and aging of the U.S. population.

*The estimates of direct costs are obtained from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey on the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Web site.

Cancer Prevention

Several effective primary and secondary prevention measures could reduce the number of new cancer cases substantially and prevent many cancer-related deaths. To reduce the nation’s cancer burden, we must reduce behavioral and environmental factors that increase cancer risk and ensure that high-quality screening services and evidence-based treatments are available and accessible to everyone, including medically underserved populations.5 6

How Cancer Data Are Collected

Cancer registries collect population-based data about the occurrence of cancer (incidence), the types of cancer (morphology), the site in the body where the cancer first occurred (primary site), the extent of disease at the time of diagnosis (stage), the planned first course of treatment, and the outcome of treatment and clinical management (survival and vital status).7 8 Cancer incidence data are reported to metropolitan area, regional, and statewide cancer registries from a variety of medical facilities, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, radiation facilities, freestanding surgical centers, and pathology laboratories. Death data, including deaths due to cancer, are recorded on death certificates that are sent to state vital statistics offices. Death data include information regarding primary cancer site, and may also include morphology according to ICD-10.

Uses of Cancer Data

Information derived from population-based central cancer registries and from state vital statistics systems is critical for directing effective geographic area or population-specific cancer prevention and control programs that focus on preventing behaviors that put people at increased risk for cancer (such as smoking), and on reducing environmental risk factors (such as occupational exposure to known carcinogens). This information also is essential for deciding which geographic areas should have cancer screening programs, and for making long-term plans for adequate diagnostic and treatment services. Pooled data at the national, regional, and state levels help federal and state public health officials establish, prioritize, and monitor national initiatives in public health surveillance and track progress toward the national goals and objectives set forth in Healthy People.

Additional resource: Archive of the Annual Reports to the Nation


  1. American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2014. [PDF-1.8MB] Atlanta (GA): American Cancer Society; 2014.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Burden of Chronic Diseases and Their Risk Factors: National and State Perspectives 2004. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2005.
  3. Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, Garshell J, Miller D, Altekruse SF, Kosary CL, Yu M, Ruhl J, Tatalovich Z,Mariotto A, Lewis DR, Chen HS, Feuer EJ, Cronin KA (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975–2011, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,, based on November 2013 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER Web site, April 2014.
  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NHLBI Fact Book, Fiscal Year 2012. Bethesda (MD): National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 2013.
  5. Curry SJ, Byers T, Hewitt M. Fulfilling the Potential of Cancer Prevention and Control. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2003.
  6. Haynes MA, Smedley BD. The Unequal Burden of Cancer: An Assessment of NIH Research and Programs for Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 1999.
  7. American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. Standards of the Commission on Cancer Vol II: Registry Operations and Data Standards (ROADS). Chicago (IL): American College of Surgeons; 1998.
  8. Fritz A, Ries LAG. The SEER Program Code Manual, third edition. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute; 1998.