Healthcheck: cancer, diabetes and mental health conditions on the rise?

Published: 22nd Jun 2018

In brief


Diabetes is on the rise.


Correct. The number of people living with a diagnosed case of diabetes has almost doubled since 1998, according to Diabetes UK. We’ve asked it for more information on its figures.


Mental health problems are on the rise.


We don’t know of any figures that consistently measure the change in the number of people with mental health conditions over time. One in four people in England had a mental health condition at some point in the previous year, according to a 2007 study. Another study estimated one in six people had a common mental health condition in the past week in 2014.


Cancer is on the rise.


There were around 300,000 diagnoses of cancer in England in 2016—excluding non-melanoma skin cancers—compared to around 250,000 a decade before. The age-standardised incidence rate has risen for women and fallen for men in that time.

Claim 1 of 3

“Diabetes is on the rise, mental health is on the rise, cancer is on the rise.”

BBC Question Time audience member, 21 June 2018

Incidences of cancer and diabetes are on the rise. In the case of diabetes, there is a strong suggestion that this is linked to lifestyle factors, but with cancer the factors are more complex. It’s harder to measure the change in the number of people with mental health conditions over time.


There were around 300,000 new cases of cancer in England in 2016—excluding non-melanoma skin cancers. That’s compared to around 250,000 a decade before.

The proportion of women being diagnosed each year is increasing, while the proportion of men has fallen in recent years.When controlling for changes in the population age over time, the incidence rate of cancer has increased for women in England from 516 per 100,000 in 2006 to 541 in 2016. For men, it has fallen slightly, from 671 per 100,000 in 2006, to 663 in 2016.

Research by the British Journal of Cancer in 2015 estimated “Much of this increased risk [of cancer over time] is due to increasing longevity.” Adults aged over 65 accounted for 65% of cancer diagnoses in England in 2016, and life expectancy in the UK has also been steadily increasing (though it’s slowed down in recent years).

Cancer Research UK also highlighted that there are many other factors at play, including “our lifestyle, our genetics & family history, our exposure to viruses, the job we do, the air we breathe”.


The number of people living with a diagnosed case of diabetes has been rising year-on-year in the UK. Around 3.7 million people had a diagnosed case of diabetes in 2017, according to the charity Diabetes UK—almost twice as many as in 1998.

It also estimates that, including undiagnosed cases, 4.6 million people in the UK are living with diabetes. We’ve asked it for more information about the figures. Public Health England estimated in 2016 that over 900,000 people in England alone are unaware that they have diabetes.

Public Health England says that Type 2 diabetes (which accounts for about 90% of cases in England) is “largely preventable or manageable by lifestyle changes... although family history, ethnicity and age can also increase risk”.

Mental health

Figures on the number of people with mental health conditions are not produced so regularly, so it’s harder to track change over time.

“One in four” is widely cited in the UK as the number of people who suffer from a mental health problem.

The estimate has been around since the 1980s, although a commonly cited source for the figure is the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS). This found that 23% of people in England had at least one psychiatric disorder at some point in that year, and a third of these—7.2% of people—had more than one.

Because each condition included in the 23% figure has a different time frame it’s not meaningful to use the data to say this many are ill in every year, or in any other time period. But the findings do suggest that the number suffering over a lifetime will be more than one in four.

A more recent APMS (covering 2014) doesn’t provide an update on the one in four figure though.

It did report that one in six people in England had a common mental disorder (CMD) in the week before they were interviewed for the study. This, according to the researchers, suggested that around this many could be expected to have a CMD at any one time. These CMDs included things like generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic disorder.

This factcheck is part of a roundup of BBC Question Time. Read the roundup.

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