Wales faces over 5,000 extra cancer cases in 2024 because of its ageing population, according to figures produced by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit and released by Cancer Research UK.

Wales already has the highest cancer rate in the UK, largely because of its sizable elderly population.

Now projections suggest that the increasing proportion of over 65s will intensify pressure on the Principality’s stretched cancer services.

Cancer Research UK is highlighting the issue at its inaugural Wales Against Cancer conference in Cardiff today, which will discuss ways in which the Welsh Assembly can help to tackle cancer and highlight the importance of cancer prevention.

Because the risk of developing cancer increases with age, the proportion of people over 65 is a good indicator of the number of expected cancer cases.

Wales currently has the oldest population in the UK, with 17 per cent of people over the age of 65. As the population in Wales continues to age, the incidence of cancer is set to increase.

The proportion of over 65s in Wales will increase to 23 per cent by 2024.

Wales has the highest cancer rate in the UK, with 527 cases per 100,000 people, compared with 373 cases per 100,000 people in London. Now experts are warning that Wales can expect cancer incidence to continue to rise steadily as its population ages.

Professor John Steward, Director of the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit, says: “Wales’s relatively elderly population is already heavily burdened by cancer and the latest projections suggest that incidence of the disease will continue to rise.

“It’s extremely important that we continue to monitor and analyse the latest trends in population and cancer incidence, as they will be invaluable as the basis for future planning of cancer services.”

People’s Peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, who is speaking at the Wales Against Cancer conference, says: “These projections provide a clear warning to the Welsh Assembly that the scale of the Principality’s cancer problem is going to grow. It will require a robust political response, in terms of the focussing of resources and the prioritising of cancer prevention.”

Professor Robert Souhami, Cancer Research UK’s Executive Director of Clinical and External Affairs, says: “Cancer is becoming much more common as people live longer, and the situation will be worst in places like Wales where there are increasing numbers of older, retired people.

“It’s seems clear that Wales will need more resources to help it cope with the extra cancer burden.”

He adds: “The figures also highlight the importance of finding better ways to prevent cancer, so we can work on reducing the expected increase in cancer incidence.”



The number of extra cancer cases in 2024 was calculated by applying published population projections to current age-specific cancer incidence rates. The calculations assume the incidence rates will remain the same.

The ageing baby boom generation and the decline in mortality from all causes of death, particularly heart disease, are contributing to the increase in the elderly population. There will be more people living longer in the UK in 2024.

Cancer Research UK Cymru organised Wales Against Cancer in order to focus Welsh policy makers on improving cancer treatment and prevention in the Principality. The conference took place on Thursday June 17 2004 at Holland House Hotel, Cardiff.

Delegates discussed a range of issues, including tobacco control, provision of palliative care and the importance of healthy lifestyle for reducing the risk of cancer.

Speakers included People’s Peer Baroness Finlay of Llandaff; Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Health and Social Services; and Cancer Research UK’s Professor Malcolm Mason, an oncologist at the University of Wales College of Medicine.