Cancer is becoming more of a chronic disease due to improvements in treatment and early detection for multiple cancer sites. To gain insight on increased life expectancy due to these improvements, we quantified trends in the loss in expectation of life (LEL) due to a cancer diagnosis for six cancer sites from 1975 through 2018.


We focused on patients diagnosed with female breast cancer, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), colon and rectum cancer, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), lung cancer, or melanoma between 1975 and 2018 from nine Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results cancer registries. Life expectancies for patients with cancer ages 50+ were modeled using flexible parametric survival models. LEL was calculated as the difference between general population life expectancy and life expectancy for patients with cancer.


Over 2 million patients were diagnosed with one of the six cancers between 1975 and 2018. Large increases in life expectancy were observed between 1990 and 2010 for female breast, DLBCL, and CML. Patients with colon and rectum cancer and melanoma had more gradual improvements in life expectancy. Lung cancer LEL only began decreasing after 2005. Increases in life expectancy corresponded with decreases in LEL for patients with cancer.


The reported gains in life expectancy largely correspond to progress in the screening, management, and treatment of these six cancers since 1975.


LEL provides an important public health perspective on how improvements in treatment and early detection and their impacts on survival translate into changes in cancer patients’ life expectancy.

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