Welcome to the State of California 

Cancer in California


What is cancer?

Cancer is large group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells. If the spread is not controlled or checked, it results in death. However, many cancers can be cured if detected and treated promptly, and many others can be prevented by lifestyle changes, especially avoidance of

Cancer strikes at any age. In California, it kills more children from birth to age 14 than any other disease. Among adults, it occurs more frequently with advancing age.

How many people alive today have ever had cancer?

Over 1,342,000 Californians who are alive today have a history of cancer.  Most of these prevalent cases (persons who were ever diagnosed with cancer) can be considered cured, while others still have evidence of cancer.  The term, “cured,” usually means that a patient has no evidence of disease and has the same life expectancy as a person who has never had cancer.

How many new cases will there be this year?

In 2013, about 144,800 Californians will be diagnosed with cancer. (This estimate does not include non-melanoma skin cancer and carcinoma in situ for sites other than bladder.) This is equivalent to more than 16 new cases every hour of every day.

How many people will die?

In 2013, about 55,485 people will die of the disease – about 152 people each day.  Of every four deaths in California, one is from cancer.  Cancer is the second leading cause of death, accounting for 24% of all deaths in 2009.

How many people survive?

In the early 1900s, few cancer patients had any hope of long-term survival. In the 1930s, less than one in five was alive five years after treatment, in the 1940s it was one in four, and in the 1960s it was one in three.  Today, more than three out of five cancer patients will be alive five years after diagnosis and treatment.

Almost 99,919 Californians who get cancer this year will be alive five years after diagnosis. When normal life expectancy is taken into consideration (factors such as dying of heart disease, accidents, and diseases of old age), a “relative” five-year survival rate of 69% is seen for all cancers combined. The relative survival rate is commonly used to measure progress in the early detection and treatment of cancer and estimates the proportion of potentially curable cancer patients.

Could more people be saved?

Cancers caused by tobacco and heavy use of alcohol can be prevented.   It is estimated that over 16,397 lives will be lost to cancer in California because of tobacco use.   About 1,700 cancer deaths were related to excessive alcohol use, frequently in combination with tobacco use.

Early diagnosis saves lives by identifying cancers when they are most curable.  Five-year relative survival rates for common cancers such as breast, prostate, colon and rectum, cervix, and melanoma of the skin, are 93% to 100% if they are discovered before having spread beyond the organ where the cancer began.  Following American Cancer Society cancer detection guidelines and encouraging others to do so can save your life and the lives of people you love.  

How do cancer incidence rates in California compare to the rest of the United States?

Cancer rates for the U.S. are estimated by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.  The SEER Program registers cancer patients in geographic areas covering about 26% of the U.S. population, including all of California. 

In 2005-2009, the overall cancer incidence rate in California was lower compared to the nation excluding California.  California cancer incidence rates for Asian/Pacific Islanders, African Americans, and non-Hispanic whites were between two and three percent lower than the nation.  Hispanics in California had nearly five percent lower incidence rate than other Hispanics in the nation.  Some of the differences in rates may reflect difference in classifying the race/ethnicity of cancer cases between California and SEER.

Cancer Awareness Month
Cancer Factsheets by Counties
Data and Surveillance
Resources for Health Professionals
Last modified on: 2/5/2013 9:14 AM