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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 This report shows that in 2012, 1,529,078 Americans received a new diagnosis of invasive cancer, and 582,607 Americans died of this disease. These estimates do not include in situ cancers or the more than 1 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancers expected to be diagnosed.3 The National Cancer Institute estimated that on January 1, 2012, 13.8 million Americans were alive with a history of invasive cancer.4

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) estimated that for 2012, the direct medical costs* for cancer, including all health care expenditures, were $87.5 billion. Of that total, 43% was spent on hospital outpatient or office-based provider visits, 41% on inpatient hospital stays, and 9% on prescription medications.5 These costs likely increased because of the growth and aging of the U.S. population.

*The estimates of direct costs are obtained from the AHRQ’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Cancer Prevention

Several effective primary and secondary prevention measures could substantially reduce the number of new cancer cases 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.6 7

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).8 9 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 2015. Atlanta (GA): American Cancer Society; 2015.
  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. U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 1999–2012 Incidence and Mortality Web-based Report. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Cancer Institute; 2015.
  4. 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, 1975–2012, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD,, based on November 2014 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER Web site, April 2015.
  5. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Table 3: Total Expenses and Percent Distribution for Selected Conditions by Type of Service: United States, 2012. Medical Expenditure Panel Survey Household Component Data. Generated interactively May 5, 2015.
  6. Curry SJ, Byers T, Hewitt M. Fulfilling the Potential of Cancer Prevention and Control. Washington (DC): The National Academies Press; 2003.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Fritz A, Ries LAG. The SEER Program Code Manual, third edition. Bethesda (MD): National Cancer Institute; 1998.