About Cancer

Illustration: There are Many Types of Cancer

At the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, we have the expertise to treat the 200+ types of cancer including the rarest forms of the disease such as eye cancer.

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells.  It can affect almost any part of the body, invade surrounding tissue and move – or metastasize – to different sites.

2 out of 5 Canadians are expected to develop cancer during their lifetimes

As the leading cause of death in Canada, this affects us all.

Cancer remains an extremely complex set of diseases.  It is able to adapt to changing conditions.  Yet, due to the remarkable achievements of cancer researchers worldwide—including The Princess Margaret—there is more hope than ever before.

We now know that cancer is a disease of our genes caused by mutations (or changes) in genes and/or how genes are regulated.  We know that the immune system tries – but often fails – to control cancer.  We have developed technologies to help us find cancers earlier because we know that, if detected early, a significant proportion of cancers can be treated effectively with surgery, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy.

It is said that we have learned more about cancer in the past 30 years than in all the millennia prior to that.  Recent advances in genetics – including the ability to decode cancer genes – are leading us towards a more customized approach, combining a better understanding of each patient’s type of cancer and how that patient is likely to respond to particular therapies.

We need to look at new ways of combining existing therapies and discover new approaches, such as immune therapy, to add to our arsenal.  We need to consider the unique characteristics and needs of each patient and target treatment and emotional support accordingly.

There is a revolution happening in cancer research, and it is called Personalized Cancer Medicine.  This multi-faceted, integrated approach involves finding the right treatment, for the right patient, at the right time.

The pillars of The Princess Margaret's unique approach to advancing cancer medicine are:

Personalized Cancer Medicine at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center

Detect, Diagnose, Target, Support

Our focus is to detect cancer earlier, diagnose with more precision, target treatment for each individual, and support patients and their families through the cancer journey.  World-class cancer centres like The Princess Margaret are leading the way, translating new understanding gained in the laboratory into more effective treatments for patients at our Cancer Centre, across the country and around the world.

Cancer Statistics - Overview

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. An estimated 1 out of every 4 Canadians is expected to die from cancer. Trends in cancer for 2017 estimate that:1

  • 206,200 new cases of cancer will occur.
  • 45% of Canadian women and 49% of men will develop cancer during their lifetimes.
  • On average, over 565 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer every day.
  • On average, over 221 Canadians will die from cancer every day.

Cancer can occur at any age, although it mostly affects Canadians aged 50 and older. Cancer is responsible for more deaths worldwide than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.2

Lung, breast, colorectal and prostate cancer are the four most common cancer types in Canada (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer).

The 5-year relative survival rate for lung cancer is low (17%).

  • Since it peaked in the late 1980s, the lung cancer death rate has been steadily decreasing for men.
  • The incidence rate in women is still rising.

The 5-year relative survival rate for colorectal cancer is average (64%).

  • Since 2000, death rates have been declining for women.
  • Since 2004, death rates have been declining for men.

The 5-year relative survival rate is high for prostate cancer (95%).

  • Since the mid-1990s, the death rate started to decline.

The 5-year relative survival rate is high for breast cancer (87%).

  • Since the mid-1980s, death rates have gone down in every age group.

Survival rates increased seven percentage points from 53% to 60% for all cancers combined between 1992-1994 and 2006-2008.

1. For detailed statistics, please visit the Canadian Cancer Statistics publication.

2. Source: Union for International Cancer Control.

To find out more about cancer prevention and screening, please visit the Canadian Cancer Society.