Rare and less common cancers account for nearly half of new cancer diagnoses and the prevalence of rare and less common cancers is increasing.

Yet people can face difficulties obtaining a diagnosis. The infographic below represents the issues people face and sets out what needs to change, including realising diagnosis commitments made in the NHS Long Term Plan, identifying people who have yet to be diagnosed following COVID-19, and ensuring that sufficient investment is made in cancer services in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

Diagnoses of early stage cancer in England appear to have fallen by 33% in the first wave of the covid-19 pandemic in 2020, early figures suggest.

National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service. Covid-19 rapid cancer registration and treatment data. https://www.cancerdata.nhs.uk/covid-19/rcrd

The total number of people living with a rare or less common cancer in England was estimated to grow to around 1.25 million people in 2020, 1.63 million in 2030, and 2.06 million in 2040.

Br J Cancer 2012;107:1195-202 doi: 10.1038/bjc.2012.366. Maddams J, Utley M, Moller H. Projections of cancer prevalence in the United Kingdom, 2010-2040. 


In 2017, there were 366,457 new cancer cases in the UK. Of these 53% were breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancers, and 47% were rare and less common cancers as defined by Cancer52.

Cancer Research UK. Cancer incidence statistics. 2017.


Approximately 144,600 people in England are diagnosed with a rare and less common cancer each year.

Cancer 52 (2020) Getting a Better Deal for Rare and Less Common Cancers

People with rare and less common cancers are more likely to be diagnosed via emergency presentation compared with the four most common cancers.

NCRAS (2021) Routes to diagnosis 2006-2016. Available at: http://www.ncin.org.uk/publications/routes_to_diagnosis. Accessed: May 2021.