The number of new cases of cancer diagnosed in Canada is expected to rise by about 40 per cent in the next 15 years, in large part because Canadians are simply growing older, says a new report by the Canadian Cancer Society.

With the number of Canadians aged 65 and older expected to grow by 2030 -- moving from one in eight now, to one in four -- the face of cancer will change, says the Canadian Cancer Statistics 2015 report.

Prostate cancer, with a high five-year survival rate, will soon become the most commonly diagnosed cancer by 2030 as Canadian men age, since the risk for this cancer increases with age.

Meanwhile, the incidence of lung cancer will fall, thanks to successes in campaigns encouraging people to quit smoking.

Still, the four most commonly diagnosed cancers in 2015 will also be the most commonly diagnosed in 2030:

  • Prostate cancer;
  • Colorectal cancer;
  • Lung cancer; and
  • Breast cancer.

Together, these four major cancers will account for half (51%) of newly diagnosed cancers by 2030, and most will be diagnosed in seniors.

Approximately 277,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2030 - a big jump from the 196,900 cases to be diagnosed this year. (While the report looked at all forms of cancer, it did not include non-melanoma skin cancers.)

Dr. Rob Nuttall, the assistant director of Cancer Control Policy at the Canadian Cancer Society, said the report looked at 25 years of Canadian cancer research and statistics to estimate future projections.

"We've been knowing that our Canadian population is aging, is growing. Canadians are living longer," he told CTV's Canada AM.

"But that's going to have an impact down the road. So we took our methods and projected forward 15 years to see what those changing demographics look like and what will that mean for cancer in the future."


Projected cancer stats

“We have large number of people getting diagnosed and more to come, and we have to address how do we deal with that,” says Dr. Rob Nuttall, the assistant director of Cancer Control Policy at the Canadian Cancer Society.

That large increase is going to put a bigger strain on families and the health-care system, the report authors say, requiring more health-care facilities and health professionals.

"We really wanted to look forward to 15 years from now … because we need to start anticipating how we re-allocate and re-assess health-care services and supports," says Nuttall.

“These people need a lot of support and services: they need access to health-care professionals; they need hospitals and beds … diagnostic equipment and the treatments,” he added.

Dan Hennessey, of Bridgewater, N.S., was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006 at the age of 49. He still recalls the call he received after getting a biopsy.

"(This) cold feeling came over my body because I was living in … (a) great state of denial up until that point," said Hennessey. "(But) once you hear the word cancer, it really strikes fear and uncertainty in your heart."

Hennessey has been cancer-free for nine years and has become a cancer awareness advocate. He says the Canadian Cancer Society's numbers are "frightening" and there needs to be more done to prevent the disease.

"If we take a more proactive approach (and) look at the information that is readily available to us -- through organizations like Prostate Cancer Canada (and) the Canadian Cancer Society -- to understand the risks and the risk factors that you may fall in, I think that's a great start to helping us take control."

While the sheer number of cancer cases will rise along with Canada’s aging population, the good news is incidence rates – which measures anyone’s risk of getting cancer – of several common cancer types will remain steady and even dip slightly in some cases.

Both the incidence and death rates for prostate and breast cancers, for example, have been declining. But lung cancer, which is often not diagnosed until it is advanced, remains the leading cause of cancer death in Canada.

Lung cancer still takes the lives of more Canadians than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined.

Smoking is, of course, the biggest cause of lung cancer. But 15 per cent of cases are caused by other things, such as radon and asbestos exposure, air pollution and certain other lung diseases.

In women, the lung cancer incidence rate, which had been increasing since at least the 1960s, finally stabilized between 2006 and 2010. In men, the lung cancer incidence and death rates began to level off in the mid-to-late 1980s and have been declining ever since.

With smoking rates falling, colorectal cancer is expected to overtake lung cancer as the second most-frequently diagnosed cancer in men by 2030 after prostate cancer.

Aging population

Canada’s aging and growing population is the main reason the number of cancer cases will rise.

Between 2005 and 2030, the proportion of Canadians aged 65 and older will grow from approximately one in eight, to one in four. By then, there will be about 10 million more people living in Canada.

Total population and median age

Almost all cancer deaths in Canada (96%) will occur in people over the age of 50, and most deaths (62%) will occur in those aged 70 and over.

"It is a wake-up call, people need to start thinking about future needs, not just our current needs," says Nuttall.

Thanks to improvements in early detection and treatment, more Canadians are surviving cancer than ever before. Today, 60 per cent of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least five years after their diagnosis.

"One of the things we need to do from this report is consider what does that mean for the number of people who are going to survive," Nuttall said. "We're going to have a lot more survivors in Canada and these people are going to need supports and services as well."

Prevention also key

The report also highlights the need for continued emphasis on what Canadians can do to prevent cancer. About half of cancer cases can be prevented through healthy behaviours and screening, says Nuttall.

That prevention includes never starting or quitting smoking. About one-third of all cancers could also be prevented by being active, maintaining a healthy weight and eating well.

Prevention also includes undergoing regular cancer screenings to help spot breast, cervical and colorectal cancer in their earliest stages.

If 80 per cent of Canadians over the age of 50 were screened for colorectal cancer using the stool test, for example, that would lead to 40,000 lives saved over the next 15 years.

The Cancer Society also recommends getting vaccinated against HPV, which is linked to cervical, genital and oral cancers. And it says practising sun safety to prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer that is mostly preventable.

With files from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip