Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Because routinely collected survival data for cancer patients in England and Wales do not typically specify cause of death, conventional estimates of survival in cancer patients based on such data are a measure of their mortality from all causes rather than their mortality due to cancer. As a result, trends in survival over time are difficult to interpret because changes in overall survival may well reflect changes in the risk of death from other causes, rather than from the cancer of interest. One way of overcoming this problem is to use some form of 'relative survival' defined as a measure of survival corrected for the effect of other independent causes of death. Since this concept was first introduced, various methods for calculating relative survival have been proposed and this had led to some confusion as to the most appropriate choice of estimate. This paper aims to provide an introduction to the concept of relative survival and reviews some of the suggested methods of estimation. In addition, a particularly simple, but robust approach, is highlighted based on expected and observed mortality. This method is illustrated using preliminary data from the Office for National Statistics on cancer survival in patients born after 1939 and diagnosed with cancer during 1972-84. The examples presented, although limited to analyses on a small number of selected sites, highlight some encouraging trends in survival in people aged under 35 diagnosed with leukaemia, Hodgkin's disease and testicular cancer during this period.

Original publication




Journal article


Br J Cancer

Publication Date





18 - 22


Cohort Studies, England, Humans, Neoplasms, Registries, Survival Rate, Wales