The Korea Herald

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Cancer survival rate rises, but cancer patients at all-time high

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : Dec. 31, 2023 - 16:01

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Roughly seven out of 10 cancer patients in South Korea survive at least five years after cancer is detected, but the number of new cancer patients is at an all-time high according to a state report released Thursday.

The five-year relative survival rate for people diagnosed with cancer between 2017 and 2021 was 72.1 percent, according to the joint report by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Korea Central Cancer Registry. It increased from 65.5 percent in 2016, and marked a significant increase compared to 42.9 percent for between 1993 and 1995.

The relative survival rate refers to the survival rate of a particular group compared to the general population. Thus, the figure could be higher than 100 percent, which would mean that that group has a better chance of surviving a given period of time than the general population.

Women were more likely to survive cancer -- 78.2 percent versus men at 66.1 percent -- partially due to the fact that they were more likely to have cancers with relatively higher survival rates. Thyroid cancer and breast cancer, both of which are more likely to ail women than men, had survival rates of 100.1 percent and 93.8 percent, respectively.

Liver cancer and lung cancer were among the more fatal types of cancer, with a 39.3 percent and 38.5 percent survival rate. Recent reports suggest that in both cases, the number of male patients are more than double their female counterparts.

Other fatal cancers were pancreatic and gallbladder cancers, with survival rates of 15.9 percent and 28.9 percent, respectively. Prostate cancer, on the other hand, had a 96 percent survival rate.

Thyroid cancer was the most common cancer for the third-straight year, accounting for 35,303 cases. It was followed by colon cancer (32,751), liver cancer (31,616), stomach cancer (29,361), breast cancer (28,861) and prostate cancer (18,697).

Of all South Koreans, 2.43 million have been diagnosed with cancer, accounting for 4.7 percent of the population. One in seven of those 65-years-old and above had cancer.

About 60.8 percent of all cancer patients survived for more than five years, up 111,396 compared to the year before.

While the survival rate for cancer rose, the number of people newly diagnosed with the disease also jumped. In 2021, 277,523 people were diagnosed with cancer -- 51.8 percent male and 48.2 percent female -- up 10.8 percent from the year before. The figure has generally been on an upward trend since the government started keeping track in 1999, but marked a slight drop in 2020.